These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Talent Think Tank (TTT) held on Tuesday 16th April 2013, hosted by Microsoft’s Andrea Winfield (Head of Talent, Leadership Development & Culture), titled ‘Succession Planning: What Next?’.
The following summary, prepared by our TTT partner the Chemistry Group, reflects a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and talent professionals from UK and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
Are succession plans the end of a people process, or just the beginning? HR is often tasked with implementing a succession planning process, but the ultimate effectiveness of these processes are reliant on many variables; the level of integration with the overall talent agenda, the development of identified individuals to ‘ready’ them for the roles they have been identified to fill, the transparency and engagement of individuals appearing on succession plans, to name but a few. So…
- How do you make a succession plan become a reality?
- When a business is changing massively, how relevant do these plans stay over time and how can you avoid them becoming redundant?
- How do you ready talent for their earmarked role, and who is responsible for getting them ready?
There are so many questions that can be raised when thinking about developing an effective succession planning solution for your business. During the TTT, we looked at a number of issues and discussed our perception of good succession planning.
Our conversations were pointing us to two very separate processes. Namely, leadership succession planning and general succession planning for the masses. We started to dissect these different processes and the main themes that emerged are as follows:
Leadership Succession Planning
A structured, centrally run, preparation plan for the leader’s next role in the business.
If this is to be seen as a realistic future opportunity then the individual needs to be involved in all elements of the process. There needs to be development of both their skills and behaviours creating a state of ‘readiness’ for the role. If this development is being done to such an extent then the individual cannot be on any more than two succession plans. Realistically, they can’t be prepared for multiple roles simultaneously.
So, who is responsible and accountable for this ‘readiness’? Responsibility could lie with the incumbent of the role. Giving them the task to ‘school’ their successors to be ready to take over from them. This ensures that the successor has a customised development plan that is targeted to fill development gaps. It provides a framework for constant feedback, and raises awareness of the successor’s level of ‘readiness’ for the role. This eliminates disappointment or disengagement of any parties if they are deemed to be not ready. The process should keep both the incumbent and the successor engaged in the process throughout.
The buy-in or ‘what’s in it for me?’ comes from the knock on effect of the process. The successor gets the role they are preparing for but the incumbent understands that for them to move into the role they are also being prepped for they have to ensure that their own successor is ready.
However, a prevailing concern relates to competition. If head hunters know that people are in this kind of plan it gives them ‘easy pickings’ to target your best people. Nevertheless, this is not a reason to be complacent with development and it was agreed an old fashioned view not to develop in fear of people leaving. Strive to be the company that does it right and people will see the benefits to stay.
For the process, at this level, to be really taken seriously it has to have the most senior level buy-in and participation. Large corporates have reported success with implementing programmes that are run by the CEO to populate their board and senior leadership roles. This is then the responsibility of the HRD to ensure that the programme is working and that they have the right people at the right times participating.
In fact, the process of leadership succession planning is more of a risk management process, ensuring that the important roles in the business are not going to be left vulnerable at any point in the business’s future. The process is the plan and the outline of what needs to be done. The development is then a separate cog in the wheel of the whole Talent Management and HR system. Each of these cogs are as important as each other and it is imperative that you keep them turning in unison to support the running of each individual element and the wheel as a whole.
General Succession Planning (or succession for the masses)
A structured, branded plan that gives people a template to build their own career path.
It’s then up to the individual employee to build their own network and achieve their own successes. It can be effective as a retention and motivation tool, as people feel that they are being taken seriously and can build their objectives and development plans around achieving their goals.
So, how do we know that managers are naming their successors at this level correctly and putting the right people into these succession planning processes? This is especially relevant when done internationally.
Responsibility can be pulled into Global HQ for the regulation of the process, giving the managers a framework to judge their people against. This can then be calibrated through a central talent panel, involving the managers and leaders, or it can be managed by the HRBPs; the people responsible for talent and those in possession of key knowledge concerning their teams.
However, does the fact that Global HQ are centralising the data help or hinder this process? Will the managers be conscious of how they want to be seen or what will happen to their best people if they do or don’t put them into the process? For this to work, succession planning has to be an ‘eco system’. The business has to see the big picture of the success of such a process and create a culture that supports it. To do this effectively, the internal branding or message also needs to be managed. Success stories should be publicised and encouragement to participate should be led from the top down.
This gives the responsibility of the participation in the process to either the successor or the incumbent but will be more successful if both are bought into the process. The encouragement for the process to work can come from the individual’s manager who may help to get the incumbent involved but in the end it is only the two people who are directly involved who can make the process a success.