"I have some people on my team on that list that are very talented. They could walk in and no one would miss me," Blalock says. "I like to think I'm irreplaceable, but I'm not."
As part of the succession planning process, Southern's management team informs employees who have been earmarked for future leadership positions about its plans for them. That policy can backfire if a staffer becomes overconfident, but it's better than investing time in training and grooming an employee who doesn't really have an interest in taking on a leadership role, says Blalock.
"We tell them there are no guarantees or promises, this is just an opportunity," she says. Rising stars are enrolled in the company's leadership development programs and are given mentors to help them get the corporate coaching they need to move up.
Blalock also encourages employees in her department to take positions in different parts of the company to help them learn the business. If they return to the IT department at a later point, they'll bring that deeper understanding with them, she says.
At the University of Oklahoma, the IT shop is like the IT groups at many other organizations -- it tends to "get distracted by the immediate," says Dennis Aebersold, CIO and vice president of IT. Nonetheless, he adds, "succession planning and organizational development will always be high on my agenda. Our development programs, combined with the coaching that supports those programs, make succession planning a continual process for us."
If you're still tempted to let succession planning slide to the bottom of your to-do list, consider this: IT organizations that encourage layers of succession planning and workforce development enjoy more success as a department, says Gartner's Morello. And Gartner's studies show that CIOs who emphasize strategic workforce development tend to be highly successful executives, while those who don't are much less successful, says Morello.
In other words, if you want to be a winning tech exec, you need a good team to back you up.
Learn to Spot a Good Bench Player
One aspect of succession planning that isn't difficult is spotting up-and-comers in the organization, says Dennis Aebersold, vice president for IT and CIO at the University of Oklahoma.
"If you asked my team how I identify rising stars, they would all say one word: sparkle. How do you identify sparkle? You just know it," says Aebersold, who is in charge of the university's CIO Rising Stars program. That initiative aims to identify two individuals each year who, with exposure to IT leadership, could become leaders themselves.
These employees attend leadership team meetings and are involved in discussions about staff development, strategic planning, organizational priorities, and planning and building key relationships.