Steve Wolever is always on the lookout for stars, those people who shine and who have the potential to one day run his business.
“What’s really driven succession planning home is this baby boom, because all these people are going to be leaving the work force, and who’s going to take their place?” says Wolever, owner, president and CEO of Signature Inc., which does business as Signature Worldwide.
Wolever, whose company provides training to service-based organizations, says Signature Worldwide’s succession program identifies top performers and helps them move up the ranks. Its U.S. operations and seven licensees reported $14.5 million in 2007 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Wolever about how he finds the stars among his 300-plus employees.
Q. How can CEOs prepare for succession planning?
We’ve literally looked for our stars, and we try to identify them: What career path do they have, and if someone would leave, who is the next likely person? It’s OK to say, ‘Our next likely person is going to come from outside because we don’t have anybody,’ but you need to know that.
It really is planning, and that’s something you can’t just leave to HR. The key senior management people need to be involved in succession planning because that’s the strategic part of the future of your company.
Q. How do you identify the stars?
We have a committee that includes our director of HR, our CFO, my wife [Becky Wolever, chief operating officer,] and I. We set a time once a year with each one of the department heads, and they name two or three people in their departments that they consider their stars and explain to us why.
It gets that department head thinking about who they would have as a succession for themselves and who is showing extra talent or energy within their job that would be considered a star.
We ask them this question: If this was your business and you could only take two people from your department with you to start it, which two would you take and why? That has brought on some very interesting rethinking of who they thought were their stars.
Early on, when we asked the question about who they would take with them, when the department heads were in the room with us, they really stopped and thought and changed their mind.
Too often in companies, people get promoted because they do their jobs very well, and they might get put into a supervisory role; they were good workers, but they’re horrible supervisors. That’s not fair to them, either.
Some people do a lot of work and get a lot of things done, but they’re not necessarily the stars. You need a whole bunch of those worker bees that do great work and love their job, but they might not have the desire to go any further that. It’s not just about whether they do their jobs really well; that’s not the definition of a star in our company.
Our definition is a person who does good work but also has an aptitude and a desire to move, in most cases, into a higher position.
Q. What’s the next step in the process?
If that employee is a star within his own department, but if we think he has talent to move up into a managerial position, we might move him to another area so he gets a broader experience level.
If that employee lacks some education, then our HR people will sit down and talk to him about taking classes at the university or seminars on particular topics that would make him better suited to take that next step.
The term ‘talent management’ is truly that: We’re trying to manage that talent, and identifying it isn’t enough to have a succession plan. What do you do then? It’s taking those people and trying to figure out No. 1, what do they want to do? No. 2, how do we help them get to where they want to go? And No. 3, how do we make that work within our organization?
Q. How can other companies create a succession plan committee?
The CEO’s role would be to get your director of HR to organize everything and set the committees up. Get your people to identify the stars.
If you’ve got 250 employees, it’s very easy to overlook one or not know how well they do things. It will become apparent when you do these meetings. It’s worked really well for us.
We have different departments in three different performance review cycles, so it’s going on all year long, and we do those star committee meetings in conjunction with the performance reviews. The department heads take great care in doing performance reviews because they know they’ve got to tell the committee who they think their good people are.
HOW TO REACH: Signature Worldwide, (800) 398-0518 or www.signatureworldwide.com