Blog: Succession Planning - A 'Will' for Success


Succession Planning - A 'Will' for Success

A good goal for organisations to set for themselves would be for every leader to be able to point out her/his successor – or better still successors
Succession Planning - A 'Will' for Success

Succession planning is like making a will – created during a lifetime to ensure harmony and continuity of success thereafter. It is no secret that the same logic and thinking, fears and insecurities, surround individuals involved in succession planning – as when making a will.

Conversely, similar consequences of ignoring these actions invariably apply: Confusion, bad blood, dissatisfaction, disputes, separation…Ideally, succession planning should exist across the length and breath of an organisation – for every leader. While ascending the organisation chart, the importance of succession planning increases.

At the C-Suite level, it becomes vital. And it should not matter whether the organisation is family-owned, professionally-managed, SME or fits any other classification. Where there is a dedicated Human Resources (HR) team or person, succession planning should be a key deliverable – and not only for the HR team.

A good goal for organisations to set for themselves would be for every leader to be able to point out her/his successor – or better still successors. People who have the knowledge, wisdom and gravitas required to take on that additional level of leadership. But let’s be reasonable – there will be resistance! Fear…is a very human, and a very real, emotion!

Leaders often have a very real, very fundamental, rather primeval, fear that the heir designate will usurp their kingdom – A fear that stems from insecurity. This is not surprising, given the highly competitive corporate environment we work in. Nobody ever wants to admit that another person – more specifically, a junior – can do their job equally well, or better!

Besides the fear, and fallout that goes along with it, there is often the assumption – particularly at middle and lower levels – that the best performer, or the senior most person on the team, can easily do the boss’s job. Alas, only a half-truth.

Then there are those who believe in their indispensible status. How often have we heard leaders say, ‘if I leave, sales will crash in a month’, or, ‘without me the plant cannot function’ or (horror of horrors!) ‘I’m the only one who knows…’? In reality, statements like these signify a huge leadership failure on the part of the individual. Organisations too should consider these as failures – business as well as HR – for turning a nelson’s eye when such scenarios were evolving and when hiring people who make such statements. Let’s be clear – no one’s indispensible!

A leader’s prime deliverable is to create a legacy!

Since the recent recession, organisations have been forced to do more with less – particularly in the people area. Consequently, the moniker of ‘acting’ began to precede designations more and more often. It indicated that the person performing the role was doing so purely as a regent. Implying (a) that the organisation did not have the ability to fill the role, and/or, (b) the person temporarily performing the role did not have the readiness level to do so full-time.

More to the point, it indicated that the organisation did not have an effective succession plan in place. A huge risk – at a very tricky time.

So how can organisations make succession planning an exercise that grooms the next generation of leaders? The first stage is to identify the gaps. An interesting option would be to use a time-tested protocol, commonly used in Reward Management – Job Mapping (as patented by Hay Group – but other, differently named, but similar, models are available too)

But…isn’t a Job Map the same as an Org Chart? Actually…no! Organisation structures are simplistic models that determine who reports to whom. A job map, however, uses a far more technical, job sizing methodology, coupled with other concepts like Webber’s Law and the Step Method – depending on the owner of the methodology. The resulting matrix, or map, symbolised by a step-ladder, shows the steps separating reporting roles from the leading ones. A matrix that often results in surprised gasps from HR managers and shock from business leaders!

Let’s take an example: An organisation chart, where an Assistant Manager reports to a Manager, implies that there is just one step between the two thereby building up the expectation in the mind of the Assistant Manager about her/his next promotion. However, a job map may demonstrate otherwise. The methodology may size the Manager’s role significantly larger than that of the Assistant Manager, and placing it several steps ahead clearly showing that it may be risky to consider the Assistant Manager as the Manager’s logical successor.

It must be emphasised that reference is being made to roles and not incumbents. A successful mapping exercise insists that it is imperative to divorce the incumbent from the role. A solid mapping methodology would first bust the paradigm that all ‘Managers/Directors/Leaders’ are equal. Then, it would determine succession opportunities by showing how people’s next moves would look (a) logical or a smooth slide (b) a solid promotion (c) a risky move, or (d) an impossible move.

Suddenly succession gaps become visible. Job/Role/Position (never mind the nomenclature!) maps can also be used as a valid support for other HR processes such as grading, career mapping, training needs analysis besides compensation benchmarking – to name just a few.

However, a successful mapping exercise cannot happen in isolation. It is a collaborative partnership between HR and all business unit leaders, ideally sponsored directly by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). With this backing, the HR team would first need to ensure that every unique role has a detailed and up-to-date job description (JD) bringing in a discipline that periodically creates, reviews and updates detailed JD’s has many benefits!

Often considered a grubby, administrative task, this is one exercise that cannot – should not – be done by HR alone, or indeed in isolation. When taken seriously, HR executives can get a much greater understanding of the business and the people who make it work. Because this is an intensively collaborative exercise, it consequently enhances HR’s bonding with peers who run business units.

For people leaders, whose core task is to lead business units, it brings an opportunity to review their existing roles, org structures of their units and their headcount. So when market factors demand changes in roles, the knowledge and strong understanding of who is doing what and where, already exists.

Enabling swift decisioning and faster time-to-market

Coming back to the succession planning exercise itself, if the above sounds too complex – and/or expensive – a simpler method would be to apply the Friday-to-Monday test:

If on Friday a leader vacates a role, how long would the successor take to get her/his arms fully around the role?

  1. By Monday? A logical next step. A no brainer. Cool!
  2. Within three months? That would imply a solid promotion. Pop the Champagne!
  3. Three to six months? Moving into risky territory! Stop and think about it.
  4. More than six months – don’t even think about it! Just stop!

While the Friday to Monday test is a very general, rather simplistic approach, it is a good tool to use when discussing succession planning with business leaders.

People leaders, at every level, are quick to understand and estimate the risks to their business if there are resource gaps. Succession planning pretty much ensures that that the right people quickly fill the right positions at the right time. Like making a will, succession planning is recommended for every leader, at every level, for the sheer benefits it brings to the future of the organisation.

Thought for the day…is it only a coincidence that success and succession sound almost the same?

Read full story

Topics: C-Suite

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?