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Succession Planning - It's More Than Just Replacing People Who Leave

Aug 17, 2007
We tend to think of succession planning as having a few plans in place for if a key person gets hit by a bus or someone retires. In practice it has to be more than this if you want to avoid continually trying to "catch up".

Unless you have a particular desire or need to be continually recruiting at varying levels in your organization, growing your own is usually a far better strategy. Certainly in some industries it is necessary to bring in outside current expertise for key jobs but in most cases having someone grow through the business provides you with a much better asset and one with a track record that you are familiar with.

Let's make the assumption that, in general, you would prefer to be recruiting at lower levels and filling your vacancies from within with a choice of good candidates.

Like most worthwhile management practices, succession planning starts with preparation and integrates with various other management processes.

Strategic plans
Looking at where the business is going and what it is going to look like in two to five years out is a good first step. Planning for how it is now is short sighted and, while immediate "emergency" plans have to be in place, this is only part of effective succession planning.

Building a profile of the organization as you want it to be in the future along with descriptions of what key jobs are going to deliver and the core competencies required, is a necessary part of effective succession planning.

Taking stock of what talent you have on hand is an ongoing job and this is where a performance management system will provide information.

It should tell you how people are going against the key results they should be delivering and against the core competencies you have established as being necessary in your business.

People can be rated in terms of their current performance and potential. This method allows for some people who may not be in the right job right now but who have displayed some potential and may well develop further in different circumstances.

We refer to people high on performance and potential as being rated in the "Talent Pool". Whilst complex matrix systems can be of value, it is often most practical to start with a simple two axis grid.

Identifying the gaps
With a clear idea of what is required and what talent you currently have, it is now time to go through the proposed organization job by job.

This is the time to see where you are exposed in terms of "emergency replacements". What happens if someone leaves tomorrow? While this is important, of more ongoing benefit is identifying the gaps you have for the longer term replacements. With these gaps identified and effective planning in place you will automatically start to generate the skills and abilities that can also help with your short term problems.

Gaps should be documented in quite some detail and cover all aspects of the job. For example, can we cover both the managerial as well as the technical aspects of the job?

Filling the gaps
The two key ways of filling the gaps identified are through development and recruitment. These often overlap as you may choose to recruit someone at a lower level to develop for a future foreseen gap.

Every time you recruit you should be asking the question "Am I recruiting for this current vacancy alone or also for a more senior one in the future?"

With some help and encouragement today's Accounts Clerk may be tomorrow's Financial Controller! That may be a better and cheaper option than trying to recruit a new Financial Controller when the time comes.

Development plans should be documented for everyone. Starting early means there are more options to look at: coaching, mentoring, project work, secondments and part time study - the solutions will vary.

If you already have the expertise in the business you want to preserve - start now with a plan to transfer the knowledge and skills to your potential new leaders.

With a comprehensive succession plan you will have concrete links between your corporate plans and your recruitment and developments strategies. Having these in place and having disciplined application and clear responsibilities will make your organization an attractive place to work - solving a few other key problems along the way.

Each manager should have a Key Result Area that addresses development of their staff and their succession. When this happens and their performance is measured against it, succession planning will be taken seriously.
About the Author
Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations. www.horizonmg.com
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