How Do We Pinpoint Succession Weak Spots?

By Staff Report

Oct. 13, 2015

Dear Future Is Passing:

The issue you raise is not uncommon — in fact, as the baby boomer retirement wave builds steam, the number of organizations challenged with succession planning issues will grow exponentially. Here’s how to think through such a challenge:

The first thing to do is define the requirements of the most critical senior jobs, including the CEO and the members of the executive team. Identify the responsibilities, challenges and performance expectations, as well as the knowledge, experience and personal characteristics needed in each role. Since this needs to be linked to your strategic plan, it’s important to take into account what will be needed 5-10 years from now, not just today. Doing this well takes a lot of work, so focus first on the enterprise jobs with the highest impact. Current incumbents are the primary source of this information, but the CEO and board members will have ideas as well.

Next, identify the people who are 1-2 management levels below each of the target jobs — specifically the best performers who have the potential to move up to bigger responsibilities. Conduct a formal talent review, where each person is measured against the experiences, knowledge, and characteristics needed across the jobs in the succession plan, using the people inside the company who are in the best position to judge. Include personal characteristics in your evaluations that are important both from a strategic and cultural perspective (e.g., bias for action, learning agility, being a team player).

Then, examine your vulnerabilities. You want to have 2-3 people who can be ready to move into each key job, but few organizations have such a deep talent pool. Are there gaps that are too big to fill with people inside your organization? Knowledge or experience can be gained through assignments, exposure, and education, but you may need to hire from the outside for personal characteristics. Do you have a few people who could fill many jobs? If so, this means that you don’t have as many successors as you think for a given position. Is there enough diversity in the talent pool? If not, look beyond the “usual suspects” to find diverse candidates whose development could be accelerated. And don’t assume that a designated successor actually wants that next job. Simply asking if this is part of his or her career game plan can easily avert this vulnerability.

Lastly, build talent review and development into your business planning process. Growing future leadership talent requires at least a ten-year horizon, starting with identifying of high-potential employees early. Focus on developing them through a series of assignments marked by increasing levels of difficulty, including jobs in different functions/divisions and “pivotal jobs” known to have great developmental impact. Appoint a group of senior executives to manage the process, as only they can make key development assignments available. Finally, be prepared to adjust the process as business conditions change and new opportunities and challenges emerge.

SOURCE: George Klemp, Cambria Consulting, Boston, Sept. 16, 2015.

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