One of my most interesting jobs at eBay was trying to find a replacement for myself. No, I wasn’t going anywhere, but any great organization values the importance of succession planning.
Meg Whitman was so dedicated to getting the best talent on deck that she routinely hired great people long before a position was available. She understood that the company was growing rapidly and that there would soon be new demands; she was confident that the right position would surface in the near future.
To that end, we were always interviewing—for my role, for other people’s roles, and for roles that didn’t even exist yet! Needing to find and train potential candidates led me to reflect upon everything it takes to run an effective organization. In looking for a way to articulate it, I created a document of questions that anyone who would potentially replace me or join me, needed to be able to answer. Over time, I tailored it as a tool any leader can use to run his or her company better.
How accurate and clear is my strategy and plan?
• What is our strategy?
• Is it tested regularly for constant alignment?
• What does success look like today? Two years from now?
• What are my objectives and priorities?
• What trumps what?
Am I effectively prioritizing and making the best decisions for the company (and ultimately for our shareholders)?
• Are my decisions aligned with the ultimate goals of the company?
• Am I forcing the right discussions and decisions?
• Are we working on what’s most important and forcing appropriate trade-offs?
• Am I a bottleneck to making good and quick decisions?
Am I aiming high enough?
• What does “best in the world” look like? Volume, speed, quality, cost, ROI?
• Is there anyone else in the same circumstances who could do better?
• Is this reflected in my near-term goals? My long-term strategy?
• Do I hold myself and my organization to the highest level of performance?
• Are we building capability each quarter so work can be done easier the following quarter?
• Am I looking ahead enough to ensure we build the capability we need in advance so I don’t hold the company back?
Do I have plans to use my organization to help create strategic competitive advantage through:
• Compelling value proposition
• High customer satisfaction
• Differentiated product
• Organization strength in all key areas (engineering, sales, marketing, etc.)
• Beneficial brand differentiation
• Competitive barriers to entry
Am I meeting my commitments?
• Board commitments
• Sales targets
• Product road maps
• Quarterly deliverables
• Project deliveries
• Cost management
• People management
How effective is my organization today?
• How is my company perceived (360 view)?
• What is the health of my customer relationships?
• What is the health of my employee relationships?
• What is the health of my relationship with my direct reports?
• What is the health of my relationship with my board?
• Do I have the right measures in place and are they effective? Am I getting surprised? Are problems identified early?
• In addition to formal measures, do we leverage intuition to identify issues?
• Once problems are identified, do we resolve them quickly without impacting our strategic agenda?
• Are we honest and openly direct about performance and issues—at all levels—in my organization?
• Are there single points of failure in key processes or knowledge sources?
• How effective are we at recruiting and retaining high caliber talent?
• For people and culture, do we manage the What and the How?
• Do I hold myself and my organization accountable for living the values we establish?
• Are we passionate about delighting the customer (both internal and external)?
• Are we a can-do organization?
• Are we always seeking to improve?
• Are we harder on ourselves than anyone else would be?
Is my future strategy sound?
• Is it well understood?
• Is it refreshed regularly?
• Is it aligned with the board?
Am I on track to deliver against my strategy?
• Is the funding in place?
• Do I have the people I need to pull it off?
• Will my processes scale?
• Will my architecture scale?
• Will my systems scale?
Is my organization prepared for tomorrow?
• Can I articulate tomorrow’s needs?
• Are improvement/stretch goals included in the objectives of everyone in my organization?
• Are employees advancing their skills for tomorrow’s job requirements?
• Have I properly aligned goals to minimize organizational friction both internal to and external to my organization
• How hard is it to learn my organization? (What is the time-to-effectiveness for new hires?)
• What is the strength of my bench?
• Do I have a clear successor?
• Are there successors for all key roles?
• As head of the organization, am I growing in the areas I need to?
What threatens my future success?
• External threats?
• What is the next big ugly?
What opportunities shouldn’t slip by?
• Am I pushing innovation?
• Are we stretching our strategic thinking?