Robert S. Kaplan is president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Previously, he was the Senior Associate Dean for External Relations and Martin Marshall Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also co-chairman of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy firm, as well as chairman and a founding partner of Indaba Capital Management. Before joining Harvard in 2005, Kaplan was vice chairman of the Goldman Sachs Group with responsibilities for Global Investment Banking and Investment Management.
Robert Kaplan: Everybody thinks people quit over money and, yeah, there’s times they do, but that’s always the stated reason why somebody quit: you know, “I got more money elsewhere” or “I got a promotion” or something. The truth is, I believe the reason most people quit is because they’re not learning and they’re not developing and they don’t see upward mobility and opportunity and they think it’s not going to be forthcoming and so they go somewhere that it is. So the biggest cost I find of not developing successors is you lose good people. They won’t stay. They’ll go elsewhere, and what happens is the quality and depth of your team erodes. And if you want to build a big business you need to build the quality and depth of your team.
In the company I grew up in and I spent 22 years at, Goldman Sachs, one of the key things l learned is, when it comes time for a promotion, I felt so strongly and we felt so strongly about succession planning that invariably I would not promote someone to a bigger job if they hadn’t developed a successor, so we’re invariably talking on a regular basis about filling certain key jobs. We’d go through names and we’d talk about their strengths and their weaknesses and whether they fit this job and if we had seen them in other assignments and we’d talk about how this would be good for their career, but then we’d get to, "Okay, who’s going to take their place in that job?" If the discussion is, "There’s no one," I’d ask, “There’s no one? How could there be no one? Is there something about their leadership style that explains why they have no one?” It may mean that we have to go talk to that person and say “We can’t consider you for a bigger job” or “We would have considered you for a bigger job, but we want to see you develop a successor and develop your talent where you are because why would I want to put somebody in a bigger job if they can’t develop talent in the job they’re in?”
And so what I used to say in training sessions is “How many of you want to get promoted when we talk about succession planning? If you do, you need to work starting day one on developing a successor. If you don’t want to get promoted, you’d like to stay in the same job for your entire career, then don’t worry about it, maybe it’s not so important.” They all want to move up. They want to progress. They want to get promoted. And so you learn to create a culture where those things are tied together, but you can only do that by actually passing people over, not promoting them, not making them managing director, not giving them the big job if they haven’t done it so they can see you’re really serious, that you mean it.
It is not a weakness to ask a question or seek advice. I would argue the most insecure people are the ones who do not do that.