It seems that even companies that have succession planning
systems in place often struggle when it comes time to fill
key management positions. This article focuses on the most
common reason for this, and looks at the three simple components
of a successful succession planning process.
1. Identification of high- potential candidates
is the first key step in the process. If time and care
are taken to identify employees who truly have potential,
the rest of the process becomes simple. Here are three
tips to help with identification:
At a recent
dinner I attended, conversation around the table turned to "What
do you do for a living?" When I'd taken my turn, a
woman sitting nearby described a problem recently recognized
by her employer. She worked for a small architectural firm.
The founders and senior partners were close to retirement
and had no one in mind to take the firm over. The employees
were concerned because they had recently been through a serious
recession and needed leadership to move them into a successful
future. What should they do, she asked. The answer of course
was that it was really too late to do very much. Years ago,
the senior partners should have realized that they would
retire one day and start to plan for that day.
just described isn't rare. On many occasions I've been asked
to assess potential promotion candidates just months before
a key manager retires. Interestingly, in many of these companies
they tell me that they have a succession planning system
and that there was a successor named for the position. However,
when the time came, senior managers decided he or she didn't
fit the bill, and they must start a speedy and expensive
search outside the organization.
There are many reasons why
these situations may occur, but one I've noticed in many
organizations is the way management perceived the process.
Like many human resource programs, succession planning sometimes
suffers from the "checklist syndrome." This occurs
when management see it as one more thing on their to-do list,
and when they see an administrative process called "succession
planning" in place, they can check it off the list and
move on to the next item. Sometimes it isn't even a system
in place, it's simply a succession data base with names in
the boxes. Once a year managers update the data, and then
put it away for another year. Is it any wonder that, with
succession planning of this ilk, executive search firms do
Every search assignment is a failure by the client
to plan succession effectively.
Of course, your human resources
should be managed as your finances and capital assets are
managed, and when done effectively, succession planning can
take up a minimal amount of management time and add substantial
value to your organization. So forget about the administrative
aspects although there will be some, and forget about the
data base. For now just think about the following three action
steps that will make your succession planning successful
the specific management competencies most crucial to
success in the target position.
- Beware of cloning. Managers
asked to identify potential successors are likely to
choose those like themselves. Their choices may or may
not be appropriate.
with a future orientation. Remember the succession candidate
won't be managing today's organization, they will be
2. Assessment of the strengths and development
needs of each succession candidate is the first key step
in helping them prepare for possible promotion. Remember
to assess them against the competencies, and ensure that
the assessment is targeted toward the next level position,
not the position the candidate currently fills. We all know
the Peter Principal which describes individuals who do well
at their current level but flounder one level higher. Think
for example about the differences in multi-tasking when one
moves from first level supervisor to mid-manager. It becomes
an entirely different concept. Here are three commonly used
methods of assessment and a comment on each:
Performance is by far the best predictor of future performance.
Competency related data should be gathered through behavioural
interviews with the succession candidate and from those others
who know the candidate best. Remember though that this will
be a measure of performance in the current job and future
performance must be extrapolated.
Testing has always been a popular method of assessing development
needs. Such testing focuses on the underlying aptitudes and
traits and can be tied closely to the identified competencies.
As any ethical psychologist will tell you, care must be taken
with these results, and they should never be used as a primary
source of information. This is because research that examines
how accurately test results predict future behaviour shows
a fairly weak predictive relationship .
Simulations are seen by many to be an ideal source of development
data. A number of simulations (e.g. team discussions, problem
solving exercises, dealing with difficult employees), based
on the target position, are used to assess performance on
each of the competencies. Another great advantage of simulations
is that we can measure competencies that aren't a part of
the candidate's past experience. For example a non-supervisory
employee who has never supervised can be assessed on supervisory/leadership
competencies. Similarly a manager who has never been asked
to develop strategy can be assessed on strategic thinking.
Most important, research carried out over many years has
indicated that the predictive validity of properly conducted
simulations in an assessment centre setting are reasonably
high when compared to psychological tests.
3. Development of candidates then becomes the final critical step. Some
key points to remember:
- Much of the development will
be based on the key competencies identified in step one and
the assessment carried out in step two. However, there are
often competencies specific to the individual or to the position
that don't make the short list of general competencies. Don't
allow these to fall through the cracks.
and training aren't the same thing. Many managers, when confronted
with a development need automatically start to look for a
workshop to attend. Development comes in many forms, and
the most effective usually has a major experiential component.
must add value. This value is the enhanced performance of
those who are developed as translated into organizational
productivity. Many managers lose sight of this fact. People
seldom change as a result of a workshop. It is the application
of learning that leads to continued development, then ongoing
feedback and coaching that makes the difference.
you are currently thinking about a new succession planning
process or examining the effectiveness of an existing one,
it pays to build your thinking around these three steps.
Oh, and you likely will need an administration process to
run it and a data management system on which to store it.
But these are peripheral to success.
For more information