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Potential Tweak to Your Succession Platform: The Shadow

If you're lucky enough to have a decent succession program, you know the reality.  Unless you're heavily invested in the concept of rotations, it's hard to keep things fresh.  You need as many tweaks and features in your succession platform as possible to keep things fresh.

Got an idea for you - the shadow.  Here's how Amazon uses it: Shadow

"For almost as long as Amazon has existed, Jeff Bezos has had a "shadow" — an up-and-coming executive who gets the much-envied chance to go with the CEO to daily meetings, talk over problems, and generally have as much access to Bezos as they can handle. 

Amazon's past shadows have gone on to lead big projects. Andy Jassy, head of the now-$6 billion Amazon Web Services business, used to be a shadow. So was Greg Hart, who headed up development of the Amazon Echo speech recognition appliance. Amit Agarwal, the head of Amazon's growing Indian business, was one, too. 

Shadows usually last about two years in the role. Renz is replacing former Kindle VP Jay Marine, who stuck around for about that long. Now that he's left Bezos' side, Marine will be heading up Amazon Instant Video in Europe."

Now most of you will come with an automatic objection - you're not Amazon, followed by the closely related "our CEO isn't Bezos."  Fair enough.  You might also say that your real need in succession isn't at the CEO direct report level, it's 3 to 4 levels below that on your org chart.  All that is true, so let's dig into the concept of the shadow a little bit.

Talking points to how smaller companies might use the concept of the Shadow downstream:

1.  The rotation into the shadow position can last as long as you want it do.  Even letting someone on the succession plan spend 2-4 weeks shadowing someone they know and respect up the org chart is powerful stuff.

2.  You obviously need the right type of senior person to take on a shadow.  A teacher.  Someone who wants to give access.

3.  The shadow assignment has to have value.  The person who is being shadowed has to give the access necessary to make it real.

4.  The mentee - or the shadow - has to have a set of goals for their shadowing period.  What do they want to learn?  How will the experience make them better?

5.  A final work product/report from the shadow would seem to the be a reasonable outcome to expect.  If I were to give the assignment, I'd do something topical like the "5 things I didn't know about our business I learned from Janet" and the related, "5 things I observed during my time with Janet that will change my personal management style".  Stuff like that - tell me what you learned and present it back to me.

Senior level outcomes?  You could have the shadow rate the execs top strengths and <gasp> - things they would do differently than the exec.

On second thought, scratch the "opportunity for improvement".  That would just get someone shot.

Shadows - for as little as a week - represent a nice perk for anyone who has been included in your succession binder.  After all, it should be more than a binder, right?



Colby Smith

A previous company I worked for took this approach - the CEO and the the 2/3 big Operations EVP's each had one.

These folks were usually on the succession plan for the position they were serving - though generally they were 2 or more assignments away from that position.

We used the very confusing "Executive Assistant to the X" title, though most folks int he organization called them a "Bag Rat"

It was a quality development experience as it provided insight into coordination of multiple initiatives, integration of several support functions into the business decision process, began to provide relationships with key internal/external contacts, etc.

These folks also had some pretty good stories that they could share about some of the characters that they worked for - really fun to listen to them and what they learned from the assignment.


Colby - thanks for the comment - love the Bag Man reference - are you watching VEEP on HBO? Classic bag man in Gary...


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