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Succession Planning: who turned out the light?

June 7, 2012

Once upon a time, there was an employee named Joe who worked at the same company for years.  His main responsibility was to change the light bulbs when they burned out.  He was good at it and he seemed happy with the company.  One day, Joe’s wife was offered a job that required they move across the country and Joe ended up leaving the company.  Although everyone missed Joe, at first, everything seemed fine…then the light bulbs started to go out and it seemed that no one else was either qualified to change the light bulbs OR wanted to change the light bulbs.  The executive board thought Pat could do a good job in this role, but she could have cared less about that job and had no interest in taking on that responsibility.  Then the execs thought that maybe Chris would be a potential candidate.  Chris was excited about doing the job, but after a few weeks, it was clear that he was confused and really not qualified to do the job.  At that point they started looking for someone from outside the company to fill Joe’s old job…but just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the fit for many candidates was “just not right”, and eventually, after the last light bulb burned out…the company was left in the dark…the moral of the story is...don’t be caught in the dark- develop a sound succession plan NOW!

It is pretty common sense that succession planning should be a mandatory cornerstone of every business, but many companies do not give it the time and attention it deserves.  There are many reasons to implement a succession plan, including:

1. Having replacement resources lined up for strategic positions

2. Having more immediate replacements identified in the case of unexpected talent shortages

3. Aiding in planned future growth and expansion

Succession planning is often viewed as cumbersome and “secondary” to other initiatives.  This type of thinking can be detrimental and land your company in hot water just like the Big Bad Wolf.  Succession planning should be embraced and viewed as an initiative to help develop the skills and talent of current incumbents and help drive the overall growth of the business.

Growing a company’s internal talent pipeline is something that should happen consistently and on an ongoing basis.  While many executives think that given the current economic climate that it may be easier to find a qualified candidate by making a call or placing an ad, this type of thinking may be the biggest fairy tale of them all.

Effective succession planning is a process that happens over time and is paramount for all organizations whether they are anticipating turnover and vacancies, planning growth, or working to adjust to talent shortages.

Here are some tips to help develop an effective succession plan:

1. Strong corporate communication is essential for effective succession planning. Executives need to work with HR to ensure that the all resources are in place and that all roles are clearly understood

2. Assign responsibility for succession planning to the executive team members and make its success part of their evaluation process

3. Understand your resources by conducting a thorough analysis of employees and their knowledge, skills, and abilities

4. Identify multiple options as successors for certain positions, especially at the executive level

5. Develop and use methods/tools/techniques for identifying employee competencies and aspirations; remember, just because someone is qualified to do the job, doesn’t mean that they want to

6. Implement a structure for developing the skills of potential successors

7. Implement an effective process for onboarding, orientation, and transitioning successors to and in new roles

8. Identify an emergency or interim process to fulfill a role if for some reason the potential successor does not work out

9. Align your recruitment initiative to succession planning by forecasting key needs and interviewing for growth orientation and adaptability

10. Evaluate plan effectiveness and modify the plan as needed

Nine-Boxing for Succession Planning

Connie Gentry Connie Gentry was a Consulting Associate at PSI. Connie’s work experience includes job analyses, validation, assessment design and customization, EEOC analyses, behavioral interview guide and anchored rating scale development, multi-rater tool (360 Feedback), large-scale competency-based selection and competency model design, and executive assessment.