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How to find your successor!

Arti Sharma | April 23, 2005

When Mark Burnett, creator of the reality television show Survivor, roped in Donald Trump for his new brainchild called The Apprentice, he probably had no clue that there would be an Indian version as well.

Trump puts a bunch of participants through rigorous business tasks like selling ice-cream on the streets of New York to designing campaigns and managing real estate to judge their capabilities, to make one contestant an apprentice in his business empire.

It may be a long shot at a succession plan, but apart from garnering publicity, Trump is also making sure he has the best talent on board.

And miles away in Mumbai, Emmay HR -- a human resource firm started by Monisha Advani and Madhu Bhojwani -- is putting eight potential managers through the wringer with tasks like raising money for an NGO in a day, selling sandwiches for a profit and even becoming scribes for a day.

If you mention the word successor to the head of a large corporate that is family-owned, you'll probably find him or her dithering over the reply. Business empires become extremely vulnerable when natural successors aren't in place to carry on the vision with which the business was started. With corporate governance becoming the key word, increasingly companies are putting succession plans in place.

But the key question is not just finding a successor, but finding the right one -- a person who will be able to stretch the initial dream into further growth. "We're reaching an inflexion point and need to know the capabilities of the people at the lower rungs to ensure we hand over responsibilities to the right people," says Advani.

But where Trump fires a person each week, at the end of the Assistant Manager Programme at Emmay HR, the most capable will be promoted to managers while the remaining participants will be put through additional tasks till they can prove their mettle.

Advani came up with the idea when department heads failed to appoint successors. "I had to take things in my own hands to make sure we were grooming people to take on more responsibility," she says.

So she identified people with potential and designed the AMP. The AMP, held in the first week of every month, started in December 2004. The eight participants come from different branch offices and divisions across the countries and are either paired or grouped to achieve targets set in the task.

The succession plan goes beyond testing the participants' capabilities. It also involves a post mortem session after completion where the learning is contextualised to their immediate work environment and they learn how it can improve their skills and performance for the organisation.

Each of the activities in the AMP is kept a secret till the day of the task. The whole team meets early in the morning at the appointed day where they are handed out task sheets, teams are divided, money for capital is handed out and the teams are briefed on the task. its limitations and the resources at hand.

In the first AMP, Advani made the eight assistant managers raise Rs 50,000 for the NGO Aangan through corporate endorsements in a day. The teams were given a deadline of 3.30 pm, by which time they had to submit pledges from companies.

The team that did not meet the minimum target of Rs 25,000 lost. The idea was to make them realise how different kinds of products (in this case a cause) can be sold.

While one team used their contacts in larger corporates and failed to raise the money, the other team knocked on the doors of smaller companies and met their target. The net translation was figuring out ways to sell Emmay HR services and setting revenue targets for themselves.

In the second task, Advani made the eight discover their sense of entrepreneurship by selling sandwiches on the streets of Mumbai. Each team was given a capital of Rs 5,000 and had to make a profit by 3.30 pm of at least 20 per cent.

The catch? For each sandwich sold, the teams had to produce visiting cards of the customers in order to eliminate selling to family, friends and colleagues.

The next task involved the teams testing their decision-making skills. Each team was handed out notional money to put into the stock markets and mock trading rooms were set up at the Emmay HR office.

The teams were allowed access to the net and television for news on the stocks to make their call and the team with the largest profit won. The task, says Bhojwani, helped the participants realise their risk taking and decision making abilities.

Marketing and advertising skills were the theme of the next task, with four teams devising a campaign for a mutual fund company. And the fifth task involved the eight people becoming scribes for a day.

The head of a local television news channel handed out subjects like a comparison on the way Salman Khan's and Ravindra Mhatre's hit-and-run cases were handled, the agenda behind the closure of the dance bars in Maharashtra and such.

The teams had to go out and meet people, write a report alone with names of sources, a list of visuals and a list of questions asked.

"Understanding the importance of communication, information and knowledge is key in this day and age and I wanted them to realise that," says Advani. Advani adds that the idea has created a buzz in the organization with more people wanting to be part of the next AMP.

But does this really help in improving performance? Says Bhojwani, "It helps them realise their strengths and weaknesses and improve on those. And by setting targets and co-relating their experiences to their work, they are able to draw solutions better and think out of the box."

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