Succession Planning- Ignore it at your Cost! Bill Spindloe

Our regular contributor Bill Spindloe once again gets us thinking about the next Big HR and learning Thing!

Every year has, in general, a focus or theme when it comes to HR and Learning initiatives. 2008/9 saw a focus on financial prudence, due to the economic downturn, and the requests to run ‘Finance for non-Financial Managers’ became the training course of choice for those years.  A renewed focus since then in and around Planning, Innovation, Project Planning ensued, and since then it’s been Employee Engagement, Succession Planning and Leadership, Leadership ,Leadership.

Surveys from Terrapin, IDC, Aon Hewitt and the like, have all shown that 2012 and 2013 are likely to be very fruitful if you are an Insead, Harvard or London Business School. One such survey says that the growth in Leadership programs will exceed 35% over last year

But wait! Lets step back a little. Shouldn’t  these “current themes” be more of a perennial focus? Now, it could be argued that all these themes could be  placed on this list, but in  my opinion there is one area that has been largely ignored by many until recently, that are now causing some very real and expensive challenges:

Succession planning. There are certain businesses which are very definitely suffering more than most, but succession planning is a real concern for most of the organizations I have spoken with in the last few years, and I can’t think of any particular vertical that is exempt. Oil and Gas in particular as an industry that has gone on record, identifying gaps at all levels, and openly admitting, along with many other industries, that many of their succession planning initiatives were aimed at the high potentials, destined for C level roles. These were seen as the only pivotal roles that required this sort of approach.  In the Middle East, within many industries this has been further complicated, with the pressures of Nationalization Employment Targets.

The fact is, that succession planning has become, in some companies, just another buzz- word, and for others a millstone around the necks of the HR and Learning Department, but the effects on the organisation of not realizing the consequences are all too real. One HR Director I know, who works in a Division of a large Petrochemical company, recently undertook a company-wide audit to establish where the challenges lay. In some areas the gap between the levels of expertise was as much as 10 years in terms of experience. This, as he told me, was not a good position to be in,  in an area where the person was 2 years away from retiring, and the best potential candidate internally to replace was effectively 10 years away from assuming the role. If this situation just existed in one area, it could be a mere inconvenience, however this was replicated throughout the organization.

So are there rules to follow here? Well there certainly are a few things to ensure you remember!

Succession Planning requires a long term, consistent approach. There needs to be an understanding of what the company is trying to achieve this year, next year and in the next 5-10 years when looking to make appointments rather than simply trying to fill a vacancy.

Clarity: Ensuring that the managers and leaders understand that their roles are to mentor, coach and assess their subordinates, and to be an extension of the organizations succession planning is key. HR and Learning cannot manage this process alone. I refer you to the 70/20/10 rule

Reward & Recognition:  Ensure that all the efforts linked to the training, learning, development, mentoring, coaching etc. aren’t lost because there was no link to compensation and benefits.  Employees are driven by many factors, not just money ( although  this is a big one for many) Job titles too and recognition are high on the list of motivational factors.

Measure Success:  Measuring the success of your Succession Planning initiatives regularly is key. Ensuring that you are able to quantify and qualify these efforts through employee surveys;the  monitoring of cost reductions associated with attrition, and logging an increase in the numbers of internally filled vacancies are all good positive indicators.

When you are dealing with generations of employees in a growing, ever changing organization this is not a one-time thing. It requires consistent effort, diligence and investment. The costs associated with this long term plan? I prefer to ask, ‘What might the costs be if we don’t address this effectively?’

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