We often think about strategic relationships outside our organizations: connections with our customers, suppliers, and the media, for example. But one of the most valuable applications of strategic relationship development is within your organization. This impact is at its most evident in succession planning.

Strategic relationships, simply put, are the relationships you maintain with people who can help you grow personally and professionally. They’re the result of diligent focus to identify the right people and gain an introduction to them, followed by sustained effort to deepen and nurture that connection so that it can yield preferential access and long-term opportunities. Now turn this around and start thinking about the strategic relationships the “high potential” people on your staff need. Your next generation of leaders will emerge from the strategic relationships that develop within your company or association.

What are you doing to build relationships with them? How are you helping them develop the strategic relationships they’ll need to reach their career goals? The energy you invest in helping these people today will build their loyalty to your organization, increasing the likelihood they will be on your bench when you need in the future. Create a trusting environment with high-potentials where conversations can be frank. Show them you support them, whether that means as part of your team or somewhere else in the future.

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership found that 90% of the knowledge, skills and abilities individuals need to do their jobs is learn on the job; primarily through direct experience, but also through connecting with role models, mentors and coaches. It’s those connections—especially those that transcend peer levels—that weave a network of strategic relationships into your organization. The health of those relationships contributes directly to successful succession planning.

I have found that, without exception, informal networks of relationships exist in every organization. Strong connectivity in these informal networks has substantial impact on performance, development and innovation. Start building your succession plan around the informal relationships that allow managers at various levels to groom their replacements. CEOs, division leaders, VPs, directors, and managers right down to the front line supervisors can conduct “skip-level” meetings with high-potentials that build strategic relationships across levels. It can be easier for employees to tell their manager’s manager about their concerns and aspirations than their immediate boss. Likewise, encourage cross-functional meetings that allow relationships to develop across silos. The informal network in your organization will grow more resilient, and your visibility into the top talent who can drive performance tomorrow will improve significantly.

As you develop significant relationships within your organization, be on the lookout for individuals who are using social and mobile technologies. Given the disruptive nature of these technologies, your organization needs people who both understand and have deep experience in the digital world. Your C-suite and your board of directors will benefit from members who can not only drive you toward better execution on the social/mobile platform, but also bring their own portfolios of digital relationships.

Do these three things well and your organization will develop greater agility and resilience. Neither disruptions from external sources nor internal defections will cause you irreparable harm. The speed of change may be increasing exponentially, but with focus on your strategic relationships with key internal stakeholders, your ability to respond will increase dramatically as well.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Identify the “high potentials” on your staff now; invest in building trusting relationships with them.
  2. Ensure they’re building strategic relationships that transcend peer levels and divisional silos.
  3. Keep an eye out for talent with social/mobile savvy within the informal networks inside your organization, because these individuals increase your agility in the face of technological disruption.

As always, I welcome your input.

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