“Anybody can plan; it’s carrying out the plan that is the challenge,” may be true in some contexts, but succession planning is different. Despite the costs associated with unexpected departures of senior or critical employees, many organisations don’t develop succession plans and those that do often don’t implement them when the need arises.

At last the economic indicators appear to show that we are emerging from the double-dip recession and many organisations can now start to think about celebrating surviving the recession. But how long will it be before some of them start asking: “Can we now survive the recovery?”

Is your staff still loyal?

It is estimated that around 66% of all staff have become disillusioned. They have seen their organisations take dramatic cost cutting actions which may have done as much harm to the businesses as they did good; loyalty and respect have been lost. Even if organisations did develop succession plans, how easily will they ride the attrition wave when they discover that those expected to succeed are leaving too? It is further estimated that some 40% of all senior appointments fail or that the new incumbent moves on within 18 months.

The saying: “Anybody can plan; it is carrying out the plan that is the challenge,” perhaps needs to be re-worded to, “even if you plan succession, the probability of success is slim!”

Common mistakes in succession planning

Organisations typically repeat old follies:

  1. They do not plan. 20% to 45% of organisations have no formal planning process to ensure management continuity
  2. They plan successors for roles without truly examining whether the prevailing operating model or those roles will even survive. The speed of change in most sectors is such that major changes are almost inevitable. It is arguably more important to develop a highly skilled, multi-skilled and agile workforce than it is to identify specific successors for many senior or critical roles
  3. They create succession plans informed by low-quality data, often collected using tools (e.g., a 9-Box) designed for data presentation rather than assessment and from those less than well-informed. They also confuse performance with potential, even when they specifically attempt to assess both. The reality is that potential can be measured but the HR ‘simplicity sword’ has slashed away much of the desire to produce elemental and defensible assessments
  4. They confuse consensus with calibration. Talent metrics such as promotability, potential, mobility and vulnerability are produced by the managers who know the individuals well and then reviewed by a group of other managers who don’t – to ‘calibrate’ the data. Though the intent is good, without rigorous facilitation this may produce more consensus than quality data; shared opinion and prejudice are no replacement for robust evaluation
  5. They compartmentalise the plans and fail to take account of coverage. Often times, top talent is identified as ‘ready now’ to fill more than one position, or has little or no back-fill. Succession plans can therefore look robust but a little analysis can reveal major weaknesses in terms of coverage and depth
  6. They focus on the organisation’s needs without due attention to the employees’ needs. Identifying that person X can fill role Y is only half of the story. The critical test of a succession plan is: “Does the person take the job, if offered it?” Fears of raising expectations and desires to retain flexibility lead to most organisations not sharing their succession plans. The consequence can be that issues such as mobility, job preference, family circumstances, etc, can lead to identified successors declining apparently desirable roles. Unless an organisation integrated succession planning with career management, they merely have succession hopes, not plans
  7. And last but not least, in excess of 60% of identified ‘ready now’ candidates, or those that were predicted to be ready by the time the vacancy appeared, are not offered the position when it becomes vacant. There appear to be multiple reasons including: the assessments were inaccurate; the role changed; a better candidate became apparent; or the anticipated development never took place.

How to develop a succession plan

If we are to see a genuine recovery and are to capitalise on it, we need to get smarter at succession planning and:

  • Define very clearly what potential looks like and how best to assess it
  • Define how best to plan succession – by position, level, job family, etc
  • Implement a rigorous process for collecting, integrating and validating assessment data and plans
  • Identify specific development activity to ensure realisation of the plans
  • Manage and maintain the development and deployment plans to ensure implementation.

Do these simple things and we may succeed and survive the recovery.

Written by Clinton Wingrove, HR futurist

Clinton’s personal passion is working with organisations to improve individual, unit and enterprise performance through the holistic design of processes, metrics and supporting IT to enable individuals to realise their true potential.

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One Response to “Succession – is planning good enough?”

  1. Dear Clinton,

    i love this topic and the way you dealt with it. how i will like you to send the clear method of handling succession plan in an organization without any history.

    any model?