Cracking the Succession Planning Code.

Over the years much has been written on succession planning.  Even when I was a Gen X’er in school I was told at numerous times how I would be posed to replace retiring Baby Bommers.  Succession planning has been on the minds of many for many years. However, succession planning is one of those things that does not get done, despite the conversations.  Why?  The reasons are multiple ranging from activity that has no immediate payback to generational gaps to complete cluelessness as how to approach the subject.

Often it is put into simple terms; an ongoing process of identifying and developing your current employees so they are ready to acquire key roles when the need arises (Lauter, 2009). This is about the same as saying a successful marriage is about communication.  This may be true but how much communication, when, what tone, how often, verbally or visually and even after all that you still can’t read your spouse’s mind.  We are people in a people business and that alone makes it the most unpredictable and complex industry on the planet.  Yet identifying, which means predicting, behavior is a critical part of succession planning in combination of having the foresight to identify (predict) what a job role may entail 5 to 15 years from now. 

When I was in high school, which is in essence a multi-year succession program, a large majority of the existing jobs today did not exist and many of the existing roles have changed dramatically.  How could one predict the changes?  One could not as it is with succession planning – risk is everywhere!  Therefore succession planning is as much about identifying and developing as it is about vision and risk.  These attributes help keep the topic out of reach of most companies and create an opportunity for value creation by others and companies.

In recruitment and staffing we already search and find people that are qualified and fit the needs of our customers but we need to have a bigger picture and approach succession planning from a different perspective to be successful.  Succession planning is about long-term vision, not short-term placements.  Succession planning also has to integrate internal and external hiring and candidate profiling.  Succession planning goes beyond skill set, qualifications, and cultural fit to being a system of selection – a set of interdependent components forming an integrated whole.

Are recruitment firms well positioned to meet this need, drive the system or fit into the client system?  Most agencies and consulting companies I interact with suggest otherwise.  We don’t talk succession planning almost ever; however, those who crack the code will have a competitive advantage over those that struggle with the concept and how to use it to create greater client value.


Executrade – Your Recruitment Specialists


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Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on April 27, 2012 at 1:30pm

Denise, you just gave an example of what true mentoring is in the workplace.  Grass roots typically works best.  And here's the deal, mentoring IS succession planning and IS career development, but just a different name and approach.  The company I work for calls it Partnership/Career Development, but at the end of the day, it's mentoring.  One-on-One, Group, Group Facilitation, it doesn't matter.  As long as it works, then you're in the game of succession planning. 


More formalized programs need to identify your top 10% contributors and then focus on where their gaps are, and what do you as a company need to do to prepare them for the next step.  It's time consuming, and you can't include the entire company in the process because you can't use a "herd" mentality if you want a successful program.  Therefore it does get the "invited to the club" stigma.  But if you have motivated employees and you effectively communicate your program to them, then they'll want to be part of the club the next time around.  And that's not a bad thing.  It works beautifully at our company.  And at the end of the day, you should only focus on development of the employee over the next 1-3 years.  No one can look 10-15 years down the road.  So Darryl, I believe you might not have a clear perspective about what succession planning truly is.  However, every company that I've worked for has a program, and I've been one of the HR team members who has managed it, and it works.  There are many approaches and every company has to do their research and then use a model that best fits them, their culture and their short-term future talent needs.  It's not rocket science!

Comment by Darryl Moore on April 27, 2012 at 6:07pm

Thank you Denise and Peter for your thoughts. I agree in most cases, certainly agree and Peter from an execution perspective 1-3 years should not focus on a longer term.  However, we have some differences on a couple ideas. 

The idea that no one can look 10 – 15 years down the road I view as incorrect. Many do, and they do it successfully. People are too unpredictable to focus 5-15 years in terms training. However, succession planning strategy and vision (and even mentoring) should absolutely be 5 – 15 years out because our corporate goals should be long term. Succession planning should be part of that vision. The training and mentoring program may be only 3 years out from the objective but that should not limit the strategic consideration of succession planning to that same time frame.

The second misalignment is that mentoring is succession planning – it is not the same as succession planning based on the literature (both academic and secular).  Nor is career development the same as succession planning. Three very distinct concepts that can go hand in hand but do not have to. Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else.  There may be no defined succession plan or even desire from the mentor or mentee to stay in the same organization. Career development is usually skills based and may not lead to any succession of any kind.  These are both tools of succession planning but not the same concept.

I think our comments are not different to any major extent, especially if we consider the different perspectives of the stakeholders involved – just a difference between execution and vision – short term mentoring and training and long-term vision and succession planning. Thank you both for sharing.


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