Last week, retail food chain Kroger announced that Rodney McMullen is succeeding David Dillon as CEO, effective January 1. It’s a non-event. This transition has been in the works for years and looks like everything will happen according to plan. There is no news, no big challenges, no surprises and no story.
How cool is that?
My company, PrimeGenesis, is in the business of helping executives manage through complex transitions when onboarding into new roles. If every transition was as well planned and as well implemented as Kroger’s, my company would have no business.
Kroger is making this transition look easy by:
- Putting in place long-term succession plans
- Moving McMullen through a series of jobs over decades in line with those succession plans
- Announcing the transition far enough in advance to allow it to happen smoothly, but not so far in advance to make it awkward
In describing why McMullen is right for the role, outgoing CEO Dillon pointed out that McMullen “has played a leadership role in every major decision Kroger has made for the past 25 years.”
Behavioral interviewing suggests that the best predictor of future behaviors is past behaviors. How much stronger is the link when the past behaviors happened at the same organization? Essentially, Dillon is saying “We expect him to deliver here because he has delivered in an organization so similar to ours – that it is ours.”
On McMullen’s side, he’s been clear that he’s not planning any major changes in strategy. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing on a larger scale,” he said.
Fortunately for PrimeGenesis, and unfortunately for most other companies, many organizations don’t do any of these things. Instead, they tend to scramble at the last minute to make up for lost time.
Following are the critical components of succession planning as described in our new book “First-Time Leader” (request an executive summary).
- Clarify strategic priorities
- Identify future capabilities required by those priorities
- Assess existing capabilities
- Note gaps between required and existing capabilities
- Determine current people to develop/plan to develop them
- Determine people to recruit early on and develop/plan to develop them
- Determine people to recruit later
Wake up folks. It’s not that hard (if you plan ahead). Trust me on this, you are far better off having your CEO transitions and all your executive transitions be non-events. Keep the story focused on your customers, offerings, employees and the good you’re doing for the world. Commit to making your major transitions be things no one would ever want to write about or write about with the headline “No Story Here.”