Putting Succession Planning in Practice
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Putting Succession Planning in Practice

by Ashok Grover

Succession planning is not just putting a couple of names against identified positions in the organization.  But, do not try to look for the best practices in this area. Rather, address these questions!

While most of the progressive organizations term Succession planning as a crucial process; there is a lot of confusion surrounding this term since people use it in many different ways.

Succession planning can be defined as a process by which one or more successors are identified for key positions, and specific development activities and/or career moves are planned for these likely successors. The identification of likely successors is based on a set of skills and competencies required for the position or a pool of positions and comparing individuals against these criteria. The competencies may be behavioral, functional or generic leadership competencies. The fundamental rule is that these must be critical or crucial for the job.  You must also consider the future skill requirements of the jobs.  The outcome of this comparison tells you whether the likely successors are ready for the job (short-term successors) or have a longer-term potential (long-term successors).  Succession planning is not a one time activity.  Instead regular reviewing along the way, including inputs from the appraisal process, must be a part of the succession management exercise.

Succession planning may require external resourcing, if no suitable candidates are available within the organization.  However, it is more than just replacement planning, i.e. identifying someone based on past performance or recruiting a person to fill a position getting vacant next month.

Succession planning may help an organization to achieve a number of objectives like:

  • Better fitments for key positions through wider candidate search and faster decisions.
  • Development of a series of successors through long term career planning and development process.
  • Managing the ‘talent pool’ of the organization also leading to image building and attracting suitable talent for its immediate as well as future needs.
  • Nurturing a corporate culture by developing a group of people as a ‘corporate resource’ who share organizational values in addition to possessing key skills and experience.

The most common model for succession planning covers only senior jobs in the organization, typically only top two or three layers.  Some large organizations also adopt a ‘devolved’ model where these processes and philosophy are applied to a much larger population.  In such cases, the management of the same moves down to business divisions or functions.  However, this model is not easy to sustain since in reality, it is not seen as a high priority activity.

Succession planning is not just putting a couple of names against identified positions in the organization.  The questions that need to be addressed are:

  • How these names have been short-listed? Is it just because these people are there and are senior enough?
  • Are you just looking at individual positions or planning for ‘pools’ of jobs?
  • When can these people take up the identified role?  Reasons for the same.
  • What the organization is doing to really ‘prepare’ them for these roles, beyond pushing them in the slot and terming it as on-the-job training?
  • Do these people know what the organization has planned for them and what is their own role in the development process?
  • Is the entire succession planning process in line with and supporting the business strategy of the organization?

Trying to answer these questions will confirm that succession planning is a real serious process.  While some people may find it to be too exhaustive in today’s volatile environment, where changes in management as well as strategy are manifold and frequent; the fact remains that succession planning is the only process that helps the organization to deliver highly customized and pro-active career development for its most talented personnel and align it with organization’s business needs.

Last but not the least, like any other serious organizational process, succession planning too needs to consider what will work best for your organization. Dear Reader, my best, his best and your best are not the same.

Ashok Grover is an expert in people assessment and focused executive / leadership coaching. He is Director at Skillscape, a company with a vision of Value Creation by enhancing people and organizational competencies.

His last assignment was with the JBM Group as Corporate Chief Human Resource Officer. He has over four decades of experience in operations, materials, information technology and people development with Parle Group, Mohan Meakins Group, Hawkins Cookers Limited and JBM Group.

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