Agile Succession: HR's Toughest Challenge

How often do the people responsible for recruitment, compensation or any other key HR function actually work with succession experts in a co-ordinated way which can deliver the agility a functional succession plan needs?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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How many organizations out there can say they are truly prepared to mitigate the impact of valued people moving on? How many are agile enough to bring together the full range of talent management disciplines to create a strategy to ensure leadership continuity -- and get it to work successfully? At its most effective, that's what succession planning achieves, and whether it's a central pillar of corporate HR or not, it helps deliver what every organisation strives for; placing the right people in the right place, at the right time -- often at the most difficult, unexpected or awkward moments.

But for most, it presents a considerable challenge. It's dependent on cooperation, shared knowledge and expertise from across the talent-management sphere, functions which are still frequently siloed and unaccustomed to working closely together. For those business who have come as far as formally planning for succession, how often do the people responsible for recruitment, compensation or any other key HR function actually work with succession experts in a co-ordinated way which can deliver the agility a functional succession plan needs?

Yet, many organisations place serious emphasis around succession -- they put time and budget behind it, but it often struggles to create a meaningful reputation for itself, operating as it does over the long term.  Yet, that's what it requires -- a vision that understands succession is as much about career progression as it is about coping with change, and an approach which remains relevant over time, and can adapt as the organisation around it evolves.

Planning the Succession Plan

But what does good, agile succession planning look like? Ideally, it's a living process which draws heavily upon career planning and management to help create an informed, relevant and realistic view of succession. From the employee's point of view, agile succession needs to understand their goals, aspirations and preferences. There is little use in a plan nominating individuals for progression if the succession-planning decision makers don't understand their needs; that's why it's not merely a top-down process, but one which involves input from all relevant roles and levels, as well as executive control.

Many talented HR professionals are increasingly grasping the opportunity to update their approach to succession, moving forward from traditional rule and policy-based mechanisms and make it a subject more easily understood and supported by the workforce as a whole. Tools such as social communication have an increasingly relevant role to play whereby collaboration at all levels enables senior management to understand their ability to manage succession effectively.

Succession planning, by definition, is a long-term process, but businesses rarely stay the same for very long. By the time many succession plans have arrived at a solution, successors have already left, and the organization, positions and job structures all may have changed in the interim. Therefore, plan for change; in fact, make a change key part of the succession plan.

But how?

Here are five tips to achieving success with your organization's succession-planning needs:

*           Do not tie plans too strictly to organizational structure or position -- these are subject to too much change. A person-based, pool-based approach is much more flexible.

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*           Inform, involve, and educate both management and the employee base. They need to understand 'What's in it for me?'. The process should be transparent -- but don't focus too much on the idea that successors may be seen as a 'Crown Prince' - so be sure to handle that issue proactively.

*           Communicate successes -- people will support a succession plan much more enthusiastically if they can see that it works in reality, so internal comms is key.

*           Secure management support -- nearly everyone who analyses why succession planning fails will mention lack of management support as a key factor.  So, ensure KPIs and reporting are in place to support the process - report on what matters to execs and do so frequently.

*           Respect company culture. If your company culture is open and agile, then this approach is for you.  If your culture is rule driven, processes focused, and it reacts badly when rules are broken, for instance, if there is no culture of open communication, think twice. There is a choice; make it wisely.

Daniela Porr is head of product for ETWeb at Lumesse, based in Dusseldorf, Germany.


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