Five Finer Points of Succession Planning

  1. From starting line-up to bench strength  Succession planning is the backbone of strategic human resources management. Its primary purpose is to provide information for the identification of candidates for replacement of managerial and other “key and critical” positions within the organization. It should serve as the basis for developing a human resources component to the strategic planning process. Thus, two immediate benefits of a well-thought out and executed succession plan are the building of bench strength through targeted allocation of development resources and creating buy-in from those employees so targeted. 
  2. Avoid the forgotten binder outcome   Succession planning should be an ongoing process, bringing top organization executives and Human Resources department leadership together to engage in a strategic dialogue. This is essential if the process is to be something more than a “fill out the forms” exercise. The more care that is taken in the succession plan’s development and use, the more efficiently the organization will be served over time. Conversely, without top management input, support and use of the succession plan, it will be nothing more than another binder occupying shelf space in the HR department. Accordingly, the plan should belong to the entire organization. It is as much about the process as the plan itself.
  3. Getting it from the horse’s mouth   In developing the plan, lots of information may be gathered from personnel records; but addressing the employees to directly provide information about their career objectives, and development needs promotes buy-in and better quality of information. You should ask employees to “self-identify” their strengths, weaknesses and next position targets, as well as to identify possible successors to the position they currently hold. Keep in mind, though, it is ultimately up to Human Resources to edit and approve any employee-provided data prior to discussion with top management.
  4. Assessing for future performance potential   An in-depth profile should be developed for each employee shown in the plan and should include a two or three sentence summary prepared by the employee’s organizational manager, describing the employee’s responsibilities, strengths and contributions. The employee should also be assessed for “performance” in their current position and “potential” for future career growth.  HR should provide rating managers with standard forms and definitions for accomplishing this, to promote a uniform dialogue among rating managers.
  5. Is there no next man/woman up?   It is important not to force employees into a successor position who do not objectively meet the requirements for success in the positions outlined in the plan. It is vital for the organization to know if there are no viable candidates for succession to a key position, to better understand the risks associated with attrition (planned or unplanned) and to be prepared with plans for external replacement if such better serves the organization’s strategic needs.

       Rod Hanks with Robert Skidmore

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