At Zenith Performance Solutions, we have opportunities to work with clients that share our vision, as our name represents; Zenith: the highest point reached by a celestial or other object; the time at which something is most powerful or successful.

We have a client that has done just that with a succession leadership program, Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM.

Succession planning is critical to all businesses. According to Entrepreneur, “more than 50 percent of all small-business owners are 50 or older, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. That means many of America’s 28 million small-business owners are coming to that point in their lives when they need to think about a transition for their businesses.”

As a business owner, what is your plan for succession?

“A survey by CNBC and the Financial Planning Association found that while 78 percent of small-business owners intend to sell their businesses to fund their retirements, fewer than 30 percent have a written succession plan.”

But we found a company who doesn’t fall into this 78%. In 2014, Realogy, Inc. recognized this need in their industry, real estate, and set out to develop a succession leadership program that gave the identified successors the tools to lead their organizations and their brokers the confidence to know they have left their organizations in capable hands.

Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM provides succession planning to real estate brokers. As Alex Perriello, President and CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group explains, “as a successful owner, preparing for the next generation of company leadership will define your legacy and impact the lives of your loyal employees, affiliated sales associates, and their customers.” Many factors contribute to a successful and seamless leadership transition: “your successor will need to acquire the business skills, experience, confidence and credibility to lead your organization into the future. He or she will also need the support of peers and mentors.”

Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM is a 46-week Executive learning experience that combines 12 days of classroom training at the Realogy headquarters with ongoing weekly distance learning engaging experts in the fields of real estate and leadership. Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM focuses on three core areas of leadership: Leading Self, Leading Others, and Leading OrganizationsSM. Presenters include the finest executive talent across the Realogy organization, as well as, industry professionals and successful brokers from all Realogy brands.  Each week, participants engage with subject matter experts, apply what they are learning in real life situations, and build experience on a variety of leadership and real estate topics.

Our Chief Learning Experience Officer, Dani Watkins, had the distinct privilege to collaborate on the development and instruction of this unique and highly successful program.

I sat down with her to get more information on her thoughts about the program and her involvement.

Patti: How would you describe Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM program?

Dani: Ha! That is a big question. In a nutshell, it is the most comprehensive succession leadership program I have ever seen. It prepares the next leaders in an organization with the tools he/she needs to successfully run the real estate brokerage. It brings together experts in leadership and real estate over the course of 46 weeks to deliver content in an interactive way using a variety of delivery methods. Here is a great video that explains it further.

Patti: How did you become involved with the program?

Dani: I was lucky enough to be referred by a previous consultant with whom I had worked with at another real estate company. She passed my name to the Vice President Platform Development at one of the Realogy Brands, which led to an interview with the Steering Committee for the leadership program.

Patti: How long did it take to develop the program?

Dani: We began planning course structure, overall outcomes in October 2014. We began structuring each live class, planning out content, writing content, developing materials, organizing webinars, lining up speakers, accepting candidate applications, and setting up an online portal in November 2014. The first cohort launched in April 2015. We continued to draft content, lining up speakers, webinars, etc. iteratively as the course progressed. We tried to stay one step ahead of the delivery.

Patti: What is your favorite part of the program?

Dani: I love the blended approach of the program. What made this program as successful as it was, was the amount of industry experts and Realogy leadership who engaged and supported the program, not just through their words, but with their continued presence at every in-person session and via webinars. The strong relationships this cohort has created with each other will last a life time. Additionally, the case studies completed at the end of the course by the participants were real plans that they would execute back on the job. That is real-word learning.

Patti: How does it feel to be a part of the program and see the first class of graduates?

Dani: I can parallel it with the joys of parenting. You go through this tremendous experience with each participant, watch them learn and grow as leaders, and when they completed their case studies, it is so emotional to see what they plan to do and how they will incorporate what they have learned. To hear them use the vernacular of leadership and then watch them put their plans into action is indescribable. Here is a link to the press release of our first graduating class.

Patti: If there is one take away or highlight from your experience with the Ascend program, what would it be?

Dani: The relationships I got to build with the Steering Committee and our first cohort.

Patti: Are you going to be involved in future Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM programs?

Dani: Yes. Our second cohort began in April 2016.

Patti: I know Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM program is specific to Realogy, but are there some skill sets or tips that you could pass on to other leaders?

Dani: I don’t think I can stress the importance of succession planning. Often business owners assume their kids want to take over the business, when in fact, they have not had that conversation, and the kids don’t have the same aspirations. That is why it is important to start having the conversations early and often. It is also essential to start evaluating the skill sets it will take to lead the organization into the future when the broker is not involved, and make sure you have a plan in place to get your future leader the skills he/she needs.

Overall, Ascend: The Executive Leadership ExperienceSM program has been such a career changing experience for me. It isn’t like any other training I have ever been a part of, or seen in the industry.

Realogy has shown how to truly ascend to new heights with this program by investing in their people…the current brokers and those that will succeed them, providing both with the confidence and assurance they need to move forward all while developing an amazing network throughout the training experience.

So, I will ask the same question I asked earlier.

As a business owner, what is your plan for succession?

As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

No matter what industry you are in, or how small or large your organization is, be sure that the legacy you have built for your organization continues to grow and flourish for the next generation.

Contact us today, if you need assistance with a succession leadership program or have any other employee training needs.