Success in an organisation often means the CEO and their 2IC make a great team. The CEO not only uses their 2IC as a sounding board, they also work well together. They make decisions and execute actions that lead to the delivery of their business plan and budget year after year. In time, the 2IC is seen as the natural successor and is treated as such by the rest of the executive team.
Recognising blind spots
The reality is that sometimes when a 2IC is promoted to the top spot, it doesn’t work out as anticipated. A recent example that comes to mind was when the 2IC of a division had worked closely with the divisional CEO for around four years. He brought strong commercial astuteness to the division, made good decisions around strategy and supported others in the senior management team to be successful. The divisional CEO left, that 2IC was promoted and the division began to languish. Decisions were now not being made as quickly and questions were raised by the overall group CEO over the performance of some in the management team. These remained unanswered for months and, after six months of this performance, the group CEO moved to install a new divisional CEO. The 2IC who had been promoted was lucky. It would have been very difficult for them to step back into the senior management team because of those prior expectations. Instead, an opportunity arose to open a new division, enabling them to shift roles without losing face.
So what happened? The prior divisional CEO clearly contributed skills the 2IC did not have in their own right. Because they were complementary, this meant there were blind spots in the assumption of the 2IC’s ability to effectively carry out the more senior role.
Creating certainty in succession
There are steps you can take to create greater certainty when this situation arises. The first is to look for an opportunity to trial the 2IC in a detached leadership role away from the influence of their previous leader. This is a great try-before-you-buy strategy.
Then, you ensure your 2IC runs through the same rigorous process you would follow if hiring externally:
• Ensure the role description is well documented and reflects the expectations and outcomes of the top role
• Ensure the person specification details the skills, attributes and competencies required in the successful person by the organisation
• Undertake some form of psychometric testing to confirm your understanding of the abilities and personality of the individual and why they want the role
• Get an external review of their competencies as you assess them against the role description and person specification to remove blind spots and ensure the candidate brings everything necessary to perform in the role.
Promoting internally is a good idea. There is already a working knowledge of the organisation’s culture and key stakeholders, whereas it can take up to six months for an external appointment to understand and work with these aspects of an organisation. Following the advice above best sets a 2IC up for success in the higher role and alleviates the risk of losing two top people (not just the departing successful CEO).
As for the example above, there is a happy ending. Most thought the move to the new division was a path to a second failure, but the original 2IC proved extremely successful in his new role because he had an opportunity to make changes to how he operated, away from those prior expectations.