The 1960's called; they want their Succession Planning binder back. When you think of bringing together all of the succession planning data collected on talent review forms does it make you want to fall from a building on Madison Avenue like Don Draper? Surely, Don would have looked quite favorably on a talent management system that gave him solid ground to promote Pete to Partner, and that would provide an eager Peggy with a specific career road map. Unfortunately, the vintage talent development process mostly consisted of discussions over cigarettes and martinis at the Old Boys' Club. If succession data even existed in hard copy, it certainly was not made readily accessible to leadership in the rigorous, networked, and easily digestible format it is today.
Ban the Binder Series Part 2:
Clouding the Talent Assessment in Succession Planning
The moment you ditch the binder, you begin helping your organization to realize all of the potential and benefits of a well-built succession planning process. From cultivating talent through mentor driven development programs, to challenging high-potentials with stretch assignments so that they may assume more risk and reap more rewards, to securing resources to build new training models that maximize leadership growth – the perks of a well-planned succession planning process will make you wonder why it has (quite literally) been shelved for so long.
The Academy Awards are just a few days away and I have to admit that I am excited….primarily because of the fashion. I admit that I have not seen a movie in an actual theatre in at least three years and have only seen one current movie this year (Bridesmaids). Nonetheless, the Oscars mark the end of award season in Hollywood. All of the rich and famous can start eating again. The winners can bask in the glory of their stardom and wait for the scripts and high salaries to roll in.
What seems like MANY years ago, while in my first corporate HR job, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead the company’s succession planning process. In years past, succession planning had been a behind-the-scenes, secretive process but senior leaders were open to building a new process focused upon development. Wow – I was excited. What’s more, we created a powerful Microsoft Access tool to store the talent assessment data (albeit, I had to bring in temps to hand enter the assessment data that was collected on expensively printed surveys) and allowed us to search and track leaders across the company. We were at the fore front! I thought that I had at last seen the end of the Succession Planning Binder/s. Oh, how I was wrong.
My clients have different needs when it comes to succession planning and sometimes these needs impact who manages the succession planning process in their companies. For example, some organizations have specific expansion plans which dictate what type of process, skills sets and leadership will be part of the initiative. Other organizations have diversity initiatives that may require a different process and leaders. Still others have board mandates requiring executive succession plans which often demand a different level of participation from the executive team.
For our clients who are ready to embark on a succession planning process, we are often asked to provide a recommendation on who they should include in the initial talent assessment phase. One can understand the dilemma as often clients are most concerned with finding successors for the CEO and his/her executive team. Given this objective, should you assess the executive team? The team and 1 level below them? Two levels below?
Our goals are ambitious. We envision choosing the salmon but substitute the steak; we aim for the bubble bath but settle for the shower; we even think someday we might make it to Inbox = 0. The truth is, everyday just doesn’t look the way it does in our dreams. That’s not to say we never meet our goals. On the contrary, our objectives are quite often met when we have a realistic target in mind and a specific path for achievement.
Determining which positions are the most critical as part of succession planning can be challenging. We won’t find a “standard list” of positions on the internet. Every organization must identify these vital roles in the context of many factors, including market conditions and organizational strategy. For example, companies who require technical innovation to execute their strategy might determine that specific engineering roles are critical while other companies would identify specific marketing roles at most critical.
We are often asked by our clients to help them anticipate common mistakes, obstacles or roadblocks when implementing a succession planning process. Planning ahead not only enables clients to mitigate these obstacles but also allows for thorough contingency planning should those obstacles arise.
The recent news on Steve Jobs’ resignation highlights the importance of having a solid succession planning process in place. In the case of Apple, there was, and is presently, a successor for Steve Jobs however for many organizations this is not the case. When executives leave an organization whether for health reasons, desire to move to another company or retirement, not only does this leave a gaping hole in the executive team but it’s very expensive to fill the role externally (and this certainly comes with no guarantee that the new external hire will “fit” within the organization culturally). If the role is filled unexpectedly with an internal leader, then that person’s role is vacant, and so on and so on.