Leadership development tops almost every organisation's list of priorities. Identifying and grooming employees with potential to step up and fill key leadership positions as and when needed is imperative for maintaining continuity and efficient performance.
Vetting and selecting potential successors guarantees a rich talent pipeline on hand for eventual replacements at all levels and even unexpected vacancies without much disruption.
Yet, while companies do make earnest efforts with development plans, succession charts, matrices and what not, the end results seem just a waste of time with nothing but a handful of names in boxes to show for it.
Well, experts corroborate that most organisations are doing it all wrong. As the Corporate Leadership Council points out, “Research indicates many succession-planning initiatives fall short of their intent. ‘Bench strength', as it is commonly called, remains a stubborn problem in many if not most companies.”
Even Mr. Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world's leading executive educators and coaches surmises, “On average, the executives we meet give their succession planning process a grade of C+ and they give their execution of succession plans a grade of D.” He adds that most CEOs are very worried that they lack sufficient ‘ready now' candidates to replace planned and unplanned losses of key leaders.
Following are a few tips on how to establish an effective succession plan to maintain an ongoing supply of ‘backup' and ‘ready-to' candidates for the future.
Establish a succession planning team comprising not just the CEO and Head of HR, but also other senior executives, line managers (if needed) and outside professionals as well.
Engaging key leaders will generate greater buy-in, support and ownership of the process.
Studies also indicate that companies that report the greatest gains from succession planning feature high ownership not just by the CEO, but high degrees of engagement in the larger leadership team too.
A disciplined methodology is the order of the day. Identify long-term goals, direction where the organisation is headed in the future and key areas which require continuity and development of human resources.
Accordingly, establish clear objectives along with a formal written plan for each key position (after judging whether it is difficult to fill externally) this should include a forward-looking competency profile, anticipated retirement/vacancy and other pertinent information.
Ensure that criteria are simple, objectives attainable and both are refreshed regularly. Integrate flexibility so that they can adapt to shifting demands of jobs and markets.
Formulate feasible timetables, measurable milestones and metrics to track the progress.
This should concentrate on say, vacancies that are actually filled with an internal promotion versus an external hire, rather than just managers that have completed succession plans in place.
The process should embrace every strategic position – from CEO, CFO and CIO to sales and marketing chiefs and other C-level officers to key lower positions and be linked with the overall business strategy.
Assess internal candidates against the profile in an objective manner (external consultants can help) to identify those with genuine potential to assume greater responsibility in the organisation.
It can include personality and cognitive testing, team-based interviewing, simulations and other assessment centre methods. This requires considerable time and attention to detail.
Using latest technology like web-based systems can facilitate both integration of and access to data irrespective of time and location.
Now comes the actual execution part of the succession planning process - providing critical development experiences to high-potential employees to enable them to move into key roles. Stretch their potential with special projects, lateral moves and team leadership roles.
Develop skills and knowledge with training and development opportunities (both internal and external).
Provide coaching, mentoring and on-the-job training to acquaint them with actual work pressures, ground realities and so on.
It is advisable to formulate customised development plans that match the organisation's future needs with the individual aspirations, abilities and talents of the candidates. This will help craft flourishing career paths marked with continued growth and development towards the roles they are chosen to fill.
Now the organisation is geared to make better staffing decisions for key jobs and enable smooth transitions as and when the need arises. Yet, the aggressive efforts should continue as candidates will need unwavering support when they step into the new role as well.
Finally, succession planning is a cyclical continuous process that requires constant monitoring to ensure that the right talent is waiting in the wings to take on the mantle with little or no hiccups. What's more, proactively building bench strength with robust people development processes is bound to help retain superior employees too, as they will definitely appreciate the advancement efforts!