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The Succession Storm Brewing

January 16, 2014

Blog Topic

I’ve spoken about succession planning and practice awhile ago. Since then I’ve been struck by the number of stories I’ve heard about the difficulty in finding good people, talent and those ready to step up to leadership. Globally it remains a primary challenge.

As I look around my client base, a mix of government and commercial enterprises, I’m concerned that whilst we discuss succession frequently, the flow of the daily workload seems to delegate succession practice to be addressed at a later date. They are taking some comfort that they at least have a succession plan. However I remain concerned about the reality of the plans.

Here are the reasons for my concern:

  • Plans are not practiced properly, only occurring when the current leader or key person is away for some reason. The plan needs to be practiced whilst the incumbent is present and acting as coach.
  • The plan is not deep enough, nor flexible enough. Most often there is only one, sometimes two candidates identified for a role. The plan doesn’t extend throughout the leadership and management, but is focussed mainly on senior leadership. Succession must also be planned for key operational positions that are outside the leadership and management spectrum.
  • The aging and mobile workforces are coming together to create serious manning, talent and leadership issues that technology alone won’t overcome. People are becoming more used to position transiency and will move if they aren’t satisfied or lose confidence in the organisation’s future. Often the loss of talent or leadership or key knowledge and the difficulty in replacement can cause an abandoning of the ship. Workforce planning must promptly address the challenges raised in staff surveys.
  • Selection, recruiting practices despite best intentions don’t seem to have improved sufficiently and there are still too many “bad fits”. Selecting the right person for the right role at the right time is still rule 101 for organisational development.

To overcome these concerns the remedies are clear to me:

  • Plan succession deep at both strategic and tactical levels. Ensure there are at least three candidates for each role.
  • Practice the plan regularly whilst the leader or key person is present and coaching. Rotate the candidates.
  • Invest in development for all staff technically, operationally and personally. Find better ways to retain and/or harness the aging and mobile workforces, e.g. mentoring roles for the aging members; improving engagement of all staff. Workforce planning must be closely aligned with learning and development.
  • Be effective and evidence-based in selecting and recruiting. Ensure the recruit is chosen either as a culture fit or culture influencer. Ensure the on-boarding is deep and caring and not just a compliance process. Ensure there are clear goals for the recruit to achieve in the first three months.

If we are not mindful and proactive about these concerns, our legacy will be a dramatic increase in the demise of many valuable enterprises.

What do you think?

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