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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: How do you select the next CEO for continuity in excellence?

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The inability to maintain continuity with a firm’s efforts around continuous improvement, operational excellence, and broad based product and process innovation has to be tied, in part at least, to poor succession planning and process.

Be it the CEO or board, there must be some criteria of critical skills and capabilities that leadership candidates must posses to be deemed likely at success.  One couldn’t imagine a contender who either lacked some demonstrated competency in finance, marketing, strategy and the like or who had no plan to acquire those competencies before taking over.

Unfortunately, the skills relevant to achieving operational excellence are too often assumed to be easy or alienable, so they aren’t on the criteria list in planning succession.

The fallacy of that assumption is proven by both negative and positive examples.  There are the myriad organizations which have a brief taste of excellence gained through high velocity improvement and innovation but which cannot convey that success broadly, to other roles, functions, regions, or lines of business or which cannot convey that success longitudinally over generations of leadership.

In contrast, there are the few successes which demonstrate that the critical capabilities necessary for relentless improvement and innovation–the critical skills of learning can be developed and conveyed.  These are:

• managing work to see problems,
• solving problems with sufficient discipline to create new knowledge,
• sharing new knowledge so it can be incorporated broadly, and
• leading by developing the ‘see,’ ‘solve,’ and ‘share’ skills in others

The expression of these skills is undoubtedly criteria for responsibility at Toyota (e.g., see Chapter 9 on Toyota leadership in The High Velocity Edge).  The US Navy’s nuclear propulsion program has run nearly 60 years with a record of perfect safety–no injuries, no deaths, no environmental pollution due to reactor failure, even though the ‘father of the nuclear Navy,’ Hyman Rickover retired in 1982 and has had six cycles of leadership change since his departure.

In short, excellence is possible, thought too infrequently demonstrated.  Continuity in excellence is all the more rare.  The cause of that first shortfall is in not cultivating the skills necessary for relentless discovery.  The cause of the that second shortfall is in not cultivating the skills to cultivate those skills over the long haul.

Respectfully yours,
Steve Spear

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