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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Lockheed's 5-part succession plan

The succession planning at Lockheed Martin has been a picture of stability: Norm Augustine to Vance Coffman to Bob Stevens.

There was grooming and overlap from one to the other. The same was true of the succession from Stevens to Christopher Kubasik. But that one got messy as Kubasik was fired on the eve of becoming CEO and eventual chairman, after it was uncovered that he had an affair.

The company moved swiftly and named Marillyn Hewson, who was to be Kubasik’s chief operating officer, as CEO. She took over Jan. 1 and will likely become chairman next year, when Stevens steps down from that post.

I praised Lockheed’s quick action in a November blog post, saying that, when filling senior positions, a question that should asked is whether a person is a potential CEO. The answer should be yes.

Another transition of a high ranking executive is underway at Lockheed, with Linda Gooden set to step down on April 1 as executive vice president of Information Systems & Global Solutions. She’ll stay another month to help with the transition of Sondra Barbour, who takes over the IS&GS leadership position.

When I interviewed Gooden about the transition, I asked about succession planning, and I got a little bit of lesson that I think any company can learn from. Gooden said that most large companies have a similar approach to succession planning, so don’t think of this as an endorsement of Lockheed’s approach, as much as an inside look at how one company does it.

The breakdown of parts is mine, not Lockheed’s.

Part 1: A living succession plan

Two to three times a year, all senior talent is evaluated. The top 60 in the corporation are identified. The leaders of the five lines of business at Lockheed sit with the CEO and senior human resources executives and talk about talent, strengths and weaknesses and what the next job should be. What are the individual’s development needs?

Part 2: Ready now candidates

Each of the top 10 positions in the corporations has a succession plan beneath them. Gooden said that she always had two candidates that are ready to step into her role if something sudden were to happen.

Part 3: The deep bench

Beyond the two ready now candidates, the company also identifies people that should be ready in two to four years, and five to nine years. The idea is to watch these people to make sure they are getting the opportunities to build the skills they’ll need to move up the next level and beyond.

Part 4: The corporate rotation

Candidates for advancement also are encouraged to have a rotation at corporate, so that they understand the breadth of the company. Barbour put in 20 years doing program work before being tapped to be the senior vice president for audit for Lockheed, and then most recently was chief information officer for the company.

Part 5: The warning

Just because you make the list one year, doesn’t guarantee you’ll always been on the list. People move on and off the list.

The lesson: Pay attention to your top talent, and give them opportunities to grow and develop. The payoff is a more seamless transition of leadership for customers and employees.

I was struck during my interview with Gooden at how many times she came back to people and talent as critical priorities and keys to running a successful business.

When you look at the churn in the marketplace today, where companies are constantly striving to be competitive and find ways to differentiate themselves from competitors, the talent question is top of mind for many.

But, despite the increased pressures and demands in today’s market, I can’t help but think that those same pressures and demands are creating more opportunities for top performers.

The challenge for companies is to create the infrastructure and culture that recognizes emerging talent, and challenges and fosters that talent.

If you don’t, you can be sure someone else will.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 18, 2013 at 7:24 PM


Reader Comments

Wed, Mar 27, 2013

The traditional approach doesn't work, as talents move on and off. Long range planning is often not useful, as people may move out before you expect it.We have developed an integrated HR platform which will allow you to find, for each evaluation factor, the best performer NOW. At any time you have the list of the best performers by selecting the skills available in the Company, in a specificic area(s).

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 CJ

Just to clarify, when I mentioned my generation has a reputation of entitlement (and rightly so), I meant that the reputation has, unfortunately, often been earned by those not willing to bide their time and spend years learning and training.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 CJ

Nick, great column. As a young professional in the GovCon industry/BD, I'm always interested in reading about the latest executive moves. It's interesting to see where executives come from and what experiences they've held that prepared them for that role. As a 20-something early in my career, I hope that many companies heed your words and invest in emerging leaders with the mentoring and training to help us become future executives who lead with intelligence and integrity (one reason I was impressed with LMs response to the Kubasik incident). I know my generation has a reputation of entitlement (rightly so in many cases), but I also know many intelligent, hardworking young people who have the potential to be phenomenal leaders in 10 and 20 years if someone takes the time and effort to invest in them. I was especially struck by Ms. Gooden's comment that she never had particularly ambitious career objectives, but that she had great experiences and people who saw her talent. Here's to hoping that kind of management continues into the next generation.

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