Turnover is an inevitable reality of managing human resources. Understanding the impact and planning for this churn becomes most critical at the top management level. However, the readiness and preparedness of organizations to plan for succession varies greatly.
Although most organizations feel the need for a succession strategy, they often struggle to institutionalize processes and practices to enable it. Organizations which have been successful tend to view it as succession management, rather than only planning. While planning simply refers to having a list of possible “replacements” for a specific role, succession management takes a long-term perspective and involves identifying and developing high-potential leaders: both who are capable of executing the current strategy immediately, as well as those who will be ready a few years from now.
Four A’s for Best-In-Class Succession Management
Based on Aon Hewitt’s research conducted with Top Companies for Leaders (2011), we have identified four A’s that are critical to ensure a structured approach to succession management that is formalized and proactive: align, accessible, assessments and advancement.
Best-in-class organizations align their succession management practices with all aspects of their organization’s strategic planning. They rely on corporate strategies to determine and drive their leadership competencies and talent development needs.
Leaders in succession management ensure that the processes are easily accessible to everyone, such that succession management is simple (allows easy data collection and is unified across business units, organization levels and geographies), transparent (process that is clear and lets high potentials know that they have been identified as such), diverse (allows representation of individuals from different cultural backgrounds with varied work experience etc.) and robust (process that accounts for succession at various levels of the organization and not just for senior management).
Successful succession management relies on regular and well-validated assessments to ensure abilities and skills are captured, high potential pool is identified and the pipeline for each role is updated regularly using robust and objective tools.
Lastly, best-in-class succession management systems provide regular opportunities to grow and develop the talent pipeline. Talent development and advancement should be aligned to the succession management system to ensure that internal vacancies are being filled by pre-identified successors. The successor list should be updated to ensure movement of individuals from within the organization.
Mantras to implement a successful succession management process
A disciplined approach ensures an effective and reliable succession management process that will provide long-term value and has commitment from all stakeholders. Our longitudinal research with organizations around the world suggests that there are 3 important aspects to ensuring success of a succession management process.
Succession management processes require that they gain commitment from the top in the form of senior management actively driving the process, promoting its alignment to the strategic outlook of the organization and helping identify and develop talent from within.
While executing the succession management process, it is also important to ensure that there are multiple owners across the organization to ensure the process is successful. Although HR plays a critical role in the process, managers and leaders have the onus to ensure that they identify developmental needs and opportunities for their direct reports, support HR initiatives such as assessments and performance reviews and provide timely updates on increased and/or changing need of skill sets and abilities for specific jobs and roles.
Finally, successful succession management requires that progress is measured regularly. To identify what is working and what needs improvement, succession management should regularly seek feedback from the end users, measure its effectiveness based on the number of vacancies successfully filled with existing pre-identified successors, etc. Successful succession management processes are flexible and allow for continuous process improvement.
Succession management is critical for organizations to ensure that the right fit for critical positions in the organization and the organizational culture are de-risked by identifying and recruiting talent from within. While difficult to implement, a well-executed succession management will reap benefits in the short as well as long term. It is important that organizations align their strategic outlook to the process, involve multiple stakeholders and regularly evaluate its efficacy.