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Succession Planning: Effective or Not?


Companies like GE, Honeywell, Microsoft, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble are known for their effective Succession Planning programs.  Other organizations?  Not so much.

In the past month, I’ve had clients contact me about searches:  one after the termination of the Executive Director, one when a key person was diagnosed with a critical illness and went on leave for 6 months and one when their star was lured away by a competitor.  Not one client had any semblance of a Succession Plan in place.  And several roles weren’t all that well understood.  What, exactly, was the scope, autonomy and accountability of the incumbents? 

We had no choice but to initiate external searches which will take 3-6 months to wrap up and cost the equivalent of one and a half to two and a half times annual salary.  A Talent Management program would have cost far less and had a high performer (or two) at the ready for almost any eventuality.

Strategic HR professionals are leading comprehensive programs for all key knowledge roles, not just senior management. From Workforce Planning to Recruitment,  Training, Development, Coaching, Mentoring,  Performance Management and Retention, Succession Planning has become a conscious decision and a priority.

Key roles are identified.  Competencies are examined.  Knowledge is captured and transferred with products and services like Transition-Path Inc.’s BroadScope, Detailed Discovery and Organized Knowledge.   Procedures are refined.  High performers are groomed, not just employees but also project staff, volunteers and, on occasion, consultants who are interested in moving back into corporate roles.  Training, Development, Coaching and Mentoring are seen as investments rather than costs.  The Succession Plan is updated regularly.   

Boomers are retiring (now, on average, at age 68 rather than 65).  Gen Y-Z are more mobile, often staying 2-3 years in a role, 4-6 years in an organization.  Illnesses are being diagnosed more often and at younger ages with employees going on short and long term leaves.  God forbid that the infamous Mack Truck should strike someone down.

It’s important to have a plan in place so that a gaping hole doesn’t negatively impact team dynamics, customer service and satisfaction and, ultimately, organizational profitability or sustainability.  

Consider the small financial organization whose GM is retiring three years from now.  A plan is already in place so that one year before his actual retirement date, an internal search can be initiated, several HiPo candidates can be considered, adequate cross training can be offered and a seamless transition made.  That’s how it’s done!