Article (November-2016)


Succession Planning and People Development

Dr. Santhosh Koyadan Veettil

Designation : -   Sr. Advisor - Talent Management and Leadership Development

Organization : -  a leading National Oil Company, U.A.E.


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The practice of identifying potential successors for leadership roles within an organisation has come a long way in the recent times.  Discussion around 'who is the best' can be seen at the top of the agenda in board meetings.A general definition to 'why succession plan' goes like this -'To develop and appoint people in critical senior management positions by thorough assessment of leadership talent whereby the organisation can establish, maintain and nurture a pipeline of leadership talent for business continuity'.

In one of the papers published by the Office of the Personnel Management, USA it says 'Succession planning recognizes that some jobs are the life blood of the organization and too critical to be left vacant or filled by any but the best qualified persons. Effectively done, succession planning is critical to mission success and creates an effective process for recognizing, developing, and retaining top leadership talent'.

We can have more fancy and verbatim definitions for succession planning. But the important question is how can we help fill jobs which are the life blood of the organisation through succession planning process? The other question here is should we change the process name to 'Succession Development' from 'Succession Planning'? In one of the article published (2009) by Mrshall Goldsmith in HBR, he says 'Plans do not develop anyone - only development experiences develop people'. Succession planning processes have lots of to-do's - forms, charts, meetings, due dates and checklists. They sometimes create a false sense that the planning process is an end in itself rather than a precursor to real development. If leadership development is not enough of a priority for the company to establish goals and track progress against those goals, it will be difficult to make any succession planning process work. The metrics a company could establish for succession development might include goals like the percent of executive level vacancies that are actually filled with an internal promotion vs. an external hire, or the percent of promotions that actually come from the high-potential pool. Too often, we find companies measure only the percent of managers that had completed succession plans in place.

When we get awe-struck by the complexity and colourful visual presentation of the process, what we sometimes forget is to focus where it needed attention. A common graphic representation of a six-step process for effective succession planning is below.

Most of the time we realise that time spend on the periphery is much more than the time spend on the core areas. 'Develop' people should be the mantra. Program goals, Leadership's as well as employee's commitment is the crux to be focused on. If there is anyone who feels they are flying around the core, it's high time to look within and act.

Career Development Discussions: The First Step towards Developing People
Individuals working for organisations have a pressing need to manage their own careers effectively. They need to do this to progress within their current employing organisation towards more interesting, more responsible and more highly rewarded work. This is the conventional, and still often relevant, meaning of 'career'. But individuals also need to manage their own careers to make sideway moves as well. Organisations that manage these expectations effectively and create an engaging workforce will stand out from the rest.

The established annual performance appraisal process can be a good place to raise career issues but not often to explore or resolve them. A separate discussion on another occasion will usually be needed. Separate development reviews and personal development plans (PDPs) may allow more time but still may not enable genuine exploration of career development issues. More frequent one-to-one meetings between boss and subordinate may be a better forum in which to raise and discuss career issues as they arise. If the organisation plans for people's careers, this should be transparent to the individual. Thus a career development discussion becomes a crucial activity which supports the talent management process. Most organizations adopt career development programs in response to pragmatic human resource concerns and because they believe it will help ensure a continued supply of qualified, talented personnel.

A critical engagement piece most often overlooked by organisations is the 'Career Discussion' piece (as shown in the Fig above ) which if carried out effectively can yield great results in terms of employee motivation, engagement and retention. Although career discussions might happen between a manager and his/her employee which may not be done intentionally by both parties, guidance to an effective discussion will help in bringing out tangible results for the employee as well as for the organisation. The change management piece shown above is crucial since it involves engagement of managers and supervisors in this process. An understanding of 'how to read and use' the various tools of talent management (PDP-Personal Development Plans, various formats, career paths, talent tools), what to say and what not to say, how to manage expectations and handle difficult employees - all these will enable a supervisor/manager in making effective career discussions.

Responsibility for career management largely rests in a partnership between the individual and their supervisors, although supervisors receive little training to deliver effective career support which in most cases is the sole reason why they hesitate (or rather 'afraid') to have a frank and free discussion with their subordinates.A conscious effort on the part of organisations to empower their line managers to do effective career conversations for sure will pay dividend in the long run.