ORLANDO, FLA.--Succession plans can be as intimidating to make as wills and funeral arrangements. No, really. Company leaders have a very hard time addressing the issue emotionally and an even harder time talking practically about who might take over for them when they’re gone.
“Succession planning really forces us to think about the future,” said workforce consultant Amy Hirsh Robinson during her session, “21st Century Succession Planning,” held June 22 during the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition. This draws out leaders’ “fear of being replaced, becoming obsolete and even their own fear of their mortality. So before you push forward, you have to address the inherent fears associated with it.”
And there is clear value to effective succession planning, said Hirsh Robinson, principal of the Los Angeles-based consultancy Interchange Group. Among the benefits of a well-defined plan:
- Reducing costs, risk and uncertainty.
- Building agile workforces adaptive to change.
- Creating competitive advantage.
- Ensuring the success of your organization and its legacy for future generations.
But many succession plans are irrelevant to today’s business challenges, she said, because they aren’t integrated into businesses strategies. Increased economic volatility, stakeholder scrutiny, information overload, cultural polarization and social media have all converged to create “new normal” conditions in which business is conducted today.
So how should companies go about creating and implementing relevant planning for their future talent needs?
First, assess the company’s succession planning situation, she said, by answering the following questions:
- Who are the stakeholders?
- What are the hopes and fears of those stakeholders regarding succession planning?
- What issues must get addressed through the succession planning process?
Next, Hirsh Robinson said to reflect on the organization’s strategies and goals, and complete a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the current succession plan and career development practices, to identify what may help or hinder the planning.
Key questions to answer include:
- What roles are critical to my organization now?
- What roles will not be critical to my organization in the future?
- What roles have the highest turnover? The longest learning curves?
- How far down should succession planning reach?
- What roles will be most difficult to recruit for?
“The most successful organizations think of succession planning as a focused program of keeping talent in the pipeline,” she said. “It is an ongoing process of preparation, not a one-time process of pre-selection. And it should extend beyond the top executive level to all tiers of the organization that play a pivotal role in the success of the business.”
After defining the scope of the organization’s current and future succession planning, Hirsh Robinson said the next steps are to identify and develop talent. “Who are my high-potential candidates and what is their level of readiness?” within 12 months or in two to three years, she asked.
Finally, she said organizations then need to come up with a plan for tracking the development of their talent.
“We have to train, coach and mentor” current and future leaders, she said, to ensure they are capable of adapting quickly to rapid change, making decisions without having all the information they might want, and keeping up with demographic shifts in the workforce in order to communicate with these different audiences effectively.
Theresa Minton-Eversole is online editor/manager for SHRM.
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