Succession Planning–Part 2: Getting Started

In our last post we shared with you the reasons why Succession Planning is not just a nice to have, but very, very important to your company’s long-term growth and success. And yet, too many companies remain stalled, not knowing how to get started with a robust, effective program. In this post we share with you a simple model for how to do exactly that. Then, in our next installment, we’ll discuss the details of how to implement that model.

First, a word about models.  Models are generally good things to have—they give you a picture, and a common language that provides both power and simplicity. But it’s also important to remember that there are lots of models out there, and each may have something to offer. So we suggest that, when looking at various models (including ours), you look for ones with flexibility. Only a flexible model will allow you and your company to be flexible as well—which means allowing you to build the type of program that works best for you.  One size, we’ve found, doesn’t fit all….

In our model, we recommend that you focus on a few simple steps. If they seem obvious, it’s because (for the most part) they are. The trick is to execute on them regularly and systematically.  Here they are:

  1. Hire solid people. Your succession plan will only be as good as the people who are in it, so hire A players—the more of them the better. Don’t settle. Hire only the best.
  2. Have a plan for when you need succession, and then assess the importance of your positions and the capabilities of your people. Recognize that it’s a long-term plan, one that should serve your company for years.
  3. Match ‘em up. Figure out where the knowledge and talent is and where you need it, then put them together.
  4. Develop these people in a thoughtful way. Think long-term, and don’t forget that the more you invest in people, the more likely they are to stick around for that next step in their career paths (rather than going off to a competitor!)
  5. Provide coaching and mentoring so that they learn what they need to learn—not just about the job they’re likely to take over, but about the company as a whole, as well as how to manage others.

If you and your team execute well, then you’ll create a virtuous cycle: the best people, properly developed, will understand the value of top performers and they, with confidence, will hire more of them, creating a domino effect of succession candidates.

Check back for Part 3 in this series, where we discuss how you can do just that.

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Succession Planning–Part 1: It’s IMPORTANT!

First, a little bit of reality: Many of us remember stories about the old days, back when you could count on your employees working diligently for 35 or 40 years and then retiring with a nice pension. They’d show up day after day, confident that the company would always be there for them and that they, in turn, would always be there for the company. They’d move through their careers, stepping slowly up the ladder while the wheels of industry turned.

But it hasn’t been that way for quite a while now. We’ve had recessions and layoffs and waves of hiring, all coming and going in a mysterious cyclicality that we pretend to understand and attempt to predict, all with middling results. And to top it off we’ve got entirely new generations of employees who appear to have graduated with degrees in how to befuddle us. These Xs and Ys and Millennials (and whatever comes next) sometimes seem like aliens from another planet dropped loosely into our workforce. (And those groups—all of whom have differing expectations of what employers should provide them, now amount to more than half of our country’s currently employed population.)

Meanwhile, staffing requirements ebb and flow. New skills are needed every time you turn around. And the people around you—the ones that make your company hum—well, they come and go, too. These days you have to be prepared. You need to know that the best people will want to stay and that the skills and knowledge they have remain, too—even if some of the specific people don’t.

That means you need to plan for what happens when people leave, and over the next couple of blog posts we’d like to share with you some of the best ways to do that.

Succession planning is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. And it’s not something you do now and then—it’s a program, something you build into your company’s DNA, something you manage. The American Management Association recognizes this truth, calling succession management “A management development program that is integrated with strategic business initiatives and that guides an organization in identifying, developing, and retaining employees with the potential to fill key leadership positions.”

And everybody seems to agree that it’s important; a recent survey from SHRM, The Society for Human Resources Management, found that succession management was the #1 issue of concern for HR departments. Yet for some reason, not enough companies are actually doing anything about it. The AMA study found that very few actually had a comprehensive, integrated program—only 8% of all companies out there…

If you’re one of the 92% who would like to build a solid succession program, there are some simple ways to get started. We’ll look at some of these in our next posting.

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