Moving on...

Nothing lasts forever, and jobs at the top certainly don't. ACN outlines some of the key issues for decision makers to consider when planning their departure - and how to ensure their legacy remains intact.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  August 25, 2007

It seems odd to plan for one's own professional departure - the day when the desk is clear, the party is finished, the boss delivers a firm, but very final, handshake, in the happier versions of the scene.

Less cheerful visions include the unpleasant meeting, the hasty filling of a box, the security escort to the main entrance. Depending on the company and the individual, both are possible exit scenarios - most people would prefer the former, but many may fear the latter is what awaits them if they leave a company.

It is partly to avoid the latter version that a well thought-out succession strategy is critical - especially for more senior executives in an organisation. By planning ahead and making one's intentions clear, both parties can come out of a departure gracefully and with dignity intact.

Of course, succession strategy should be about much more than personal appearances or comfort. For a dedicated professional who has spent a number of years developing a strategy, moulding a department or building a business, ensuring his or her vision carries on - and was not in vain - should be a major concern.

In terms of practical approaches to organising succession, then, experts abound with top tips on how to ensure an orderly transition. One such is management consultant firm Oliver Wyman, which advises companies on a range of business issues - including management change.

Dr Petra Elgass, a principal in Oliver Wyman's CMT unit, says decision makers must look not only at their own succession, but also that of key staff members, in order to ensure long-term continuity. "Decision makers should consider looking at developing succession strategies that are on-going and not merely as an occasional activity," she explains. "This consistent approach builds stability, prevents business disruption and ensures that the company is always prepared for future upsets. Succession strategies should include mentoring, job rotation and specialised training."

A key part of planning for departure is grooming a specific successor - indeed many CEOs now come under fire for not setting up a replacement, even when the CEO's departure is not apparently imminent. Choosing a successor generally comes down to grooming an internal candidate, or else looking to recruit from outside the enterprise. Elgass says both strategies are critical to success.

The departing decision maker should set up a clear plan for their successor and allow time for proper handover or to put in place an appropriate transition plan.

She says: "A well balanced approach is the best way to benefit from internal and external expertise. People inside the organisation are familiar with its systems, policies and plans, and developing them would definitely add value to the business. Moving up the ladder fosters motivation and initiative on behalf of subordinates to grow and look for their own growth opportunities. However, a constant check of the market and a comparison of skills will prevent in-breeding."

In most business cultures - the Middle East not excepted - being open about one's intentions to leave can be problematic. Many organisations are not willing to discuss the issue, preferring to imagine that employees will remain with the company permanently. Whatever the reason for this - competitive paranoia, insecure or inexperienced management, or just plain jealousy - this attitude will probably foster destructive departures, rather than preventing them.

Against this head-in-the-sand method comes the managed method of succession. Increasing numbers of companies are taking this approach, globally and in the Middle East. In the IT sector, Juniper CEO Scott Kriens is well known for his clear-cut executive strategy - filling posts with individuals holding particular skills, and making very clear from the outset how long he expects them to stay in the job.

The Middle East's largest technology vendor - HP - recently saw a fairly orderly transition from long-time regional head Joseph Hanania; after informing the firm of his intentions to leave some time in advance, Hanania then left the company shortly after GITEX 2006 with a minimum of fuss. Ironically, this is in stark contrast to HP's global executive team, which is still emerging from two disorderly CEO departures, and major issues within the company's board itself - proof that even the largest and apparently most successful companies can handle executive change badly.

"There is no doubt that transparency is key at the point of resignation," says Elgass. "Once one has taken the decision to depart, it is important to communicate it to the management team or to the CEO immediately. The departing decision maker should set up a clear plan for their successor and allow time for proper handover or to put in place an appropriate transition plan."

Once an executive has decided to resign, one natural part of planning for departure is making sure that one's hard work will not go to waste. Trying to ensure an enterprise or department will continue with a particular strategy in the longer term is always going to be a challenge, but may be important not just from a personal pride point of view, but also the long-term health and development of the organisation in question - especially with complex departments such as IT.

Frustratingly for soon-to-be departing CIOs, the time to make sure that a strategy carries on is a long time in advance of one's actual resignation, according to Elgass: "The best way to ensure the implementation of long term strategic plans is through the adoption of three parallel strategies: first, executives should agree on a clear strategic roadmap with other stakeholders, and meet regularly.

"Second, get initiatives to the point of no return. Executives shouldn't try implementing initiatives three to six months before they leave. Third, leaving a strong team behind that is able to proceed with the plans is a must," she concludes.

The team one leaves behind is perhaps the most critical aspect of ensuring an orderly succession and departure. Not only is a hand-picked department the best place to draw successors from, but the existence of an effective team that will continue to manage its tasks effectively will make top executives much less apprehensive - and therefore hostile - about the departure of one individual.

"A good team is key to succession planning," affirms Elgass. "Always have two or three high-calibre managers on the next level ready to step up - if you have this in place, it is easy to find successors. Focus on your people by taking care of the basics - job titles, pay grades and so on - as well as developing their competencies, for example by implementing training and mentoring programmes. Evaluate the performance of the potential leaders carefully and be as transparent as possible."

Climbing the greasy pole

Dr Petra Elgass outlines her top tips for junior IT executives looking to fill the big chair:

• Take initiative and look for leadership opportunities

• Come up with new ideas. Look into implementing new technologies in your organisation

• Team up with senior management and discuss your ambitions and plans openly

• Go the extra mile and build up knowledge and relationship with other departments in the organisation. It is important for the IT manager to understand how the user departments - sales and marketing for example - function in order to cater to the developing needs of the business

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