Succession planning, by and large, is more art than science. But as your organization grows, you'll want to find ways to gauge which of your existing employees might make for strong members of your leadership team.

One such idea comes from Illinois-based fleet management company EMKAY, which Inc. has identified as one of the United States's premiere sustained growth firms. The company introduced an initiative last year called Project EMKAY.

Project EMKAY, which serves as an acronym for Executive-Manager Key initiative Alignment fiscal Year 2014, serves multiple purposes--not the least of which is to get a sense for which middle managers might be well suited to executive roles down the line, according to CEO Greg Tepas.

How It Works

EMKAY's executive team tasked its middle managers with presenting any and all organizational issues it could come up with. The managers were then grouped into small task forces around these goals where they worked directly with an executive to create solutions to these problems, which ranged from HR initiatives (resulting in things like new performance review methods and a new attendance system) to customer-level projects (such as a customer referral program).

All told the managers came up with 80 new projects out of Project EMKAY, of which, Tepas says, 75 will be completed by the end of February.

Big Payoffs

The most immediate benefits of a system like this are obvious. First, the company was able to come up with 75 new solutions across all phases of their business. That's remarkable on its own right. Second, Project EMKAY helped to create alignment about organizational priorities--not just at the executive level, but by engaging middle management, deeper into the organization as well.

But Tepas says the initiative is also valuable as a grooming and testing ground for those managers, to see how they'd perform when tasked with conceptualizing solutions to larger organizational issues that tend to fall to the C-suite. Tepas says that, all things being equal, he'd prefer to promote executives internally, which made the initaitive all the more valuable.

Red Flags

Of course, Project EMKAY wasn't without its hiccups. Tepas said they included time management issues and getting everybody to embrace the idea and contribute. But he suggested these sorts of issues only help to evaluate potential leaders.

"We have learned who wants to step up and do more, who is capable of doing more," he says. "I have learned which leaders are most effective, and in which areas, as I pushed some outside their comfort zone to ascertain how good they are driving projects and people outside of their normal jurisdiction."

Tepas says the organization will likely run the initiative again this year with some modifications. He says he hopes to see middle management take an even greater initiative in finding solutions the next time around.