Monday, November 25, 2019

One Down and Two Deep

No, this is not some shorthand clue from a crossword puzzle…. Instead it’s a succession planning/organizational development concept that I have been working on in my new role at Bolthouse Farms.

As many of you know, I worked at Bolthouse Farms from 2009-2015 and had a great run at the company during that time.  We drove a lot of growth and expansion in the business during those years and I was one of the partners that lead the sale of the company to Campbell’s in 2012. ( 

In hindsight there are a ton of things that I am proud of from those days and both the business dynamics, the exceptional results and the wonderful people I had a chance to work with during that time top the list!  After leaving the company in early 2015, I started a consulting business and had NO CLUE that I would ever get a chance to come back to that same company, being one of the partners that bought the company back from Campbell’s last summer, closing on the purchase in June 2019.  Now as one of the lead executives at the company, we are working hard to get the company stabilized and to rebuild it into a dynamic, high growth fresh platform centered on the idea of “Plant Powering People.” (more on that in a future post for sure!)

It’s rare in a person’s career to have a chance to come back to a business, almost five years after you left it and work on building or re-building a once strong legacy.  The Campbell’s years were tough for Bolthouse Farms, and there are a lot of things to repair/correct/improve/change to get the company back on a growth path but no area is more important in that perspective than rebuilding the talent at the company for that journey ahead.  It’s in that spirit that I have been thinking about this idea about leadership development and succession planning that is captured in the title of this essay….” one down and two deep.”

The idea is simple… every leader take a moment and think about their direct reports “one down”, not the entire team of leaders in your organization but just your direct reports. Sketch that group out on a single sheet and then ask yourself if every one of those individuals are performing well in their roles, leading their teams well, generating great results and are “ready now” to move up or over into new roles that the business might need as it grows and expands.  It’s no small feat to say, “yes” to all the above attributes but if you can say “yes”, then you are mark yourself in good shape “one down.”  While this is a big step, the real challenge is to push yourself to see if you have high performing/”ready now” internal leaders ready to fill all of those     “one down” roles if needed, the step that checks readiness “two deep.”  

On a recent flight I did this “exercise” and was pretty blown away by the results.  We are rebuilding the leadership level in the company now and all of my direct reports are new to their roles, and while most are “alumni hires,” (folks who had worked at Bolthouse Farms in the past and who have come back to create the next chapter of success and growth in the company’s 104 year young history,) all of my direct reports are new to their roles and are doing great…. but while “doing great,” certainly not “ready now” to move into another leadership opening if needed. (“One down”) The real eye opener was taking the next step… thinking deeply about “their direct reports” and THEIR readiness to move up or over if needed.  As I thought about that group, “two deep,” it is filled with talented folks doing great work, but not full with “ready now” leaders who could move into key openings if required.  

This is in no way a critique of our organization, quite the opposite. The team that has come together is fantastic, highly skilled, highly motivated and totally rocks!  I am privileged to work with a group of team members who are so focused on the mission of the company and the tough work ahead.  What the exercise DOES illuminate is the idea that a leader’s job about nurturing and growing leadership talent is never done! We need to work hard on identifying young leaders “coming up” in the organization and work on getting them the experiences/exposure/mentoring/etc. that will help them achieve their leadership potential in our company.  Try this exercise, looking “one down,” and assessing your leadership team’s readiness “two deep,” and cascade the approach to your leaders.  I am confident that it might be a bit eye-openeing but also very helpful as you build your organization’s leaders for the future!