I can’t quite remember when it was, but on a recent Bill Kutik Radio Show, Bill mentioned, “One of the things that drives me crazy, is every survey that comes out, everyone says that Succession Planning is their top priority, and then the following year, the same survey states that nobody implemented it.” Bill’s absolutely right, and I’ve started wondering exactly what is so hard about Succession Planning that with all the best intentions, we just can’t seem to get moving on that front of talent management.
I have a theory that there are a couple of pillars that make us unable to implement it. First of all, there are core capabilities that need to be created before we can get Succession in place. While we can often think of Succession as a stand alone process from the rest of talent management, Succession certainly needs a few ingredients to work. Fist of all, we want to be able to create plans based on actual measurements rather than the reviewer’s subjective opinions which we know would result in a high probability of bias and be subject more to potential successors networking capabilities than job capabilities (although this may not be a terrible thing). What we need are a few years worth of performance and competency data. This means that to have a quantitative means of measuring probable successors, we’d like to see trends and trajectory. This can go not only for internal candidates since external candidates often have measurable indicators that may be public. The core problem however, is that not only do we need the basics of talent management intact, but we also would like to have a few years worth of data.
Second, there is a distinct manager capability that is far beyond that of other talent processes. In performance management, our managers are asked to measure direct employees on a specified set of performance parameters. When we talk about succession plans, we are often asking our executives to look at possible successors that they don’t directly work with today. They look at the capabilities of each candidate, level those candidates across the multiple business units, look at total experience, expertise and capability, and then look at potential. Succession or our executives is far more complex than performance is for our managers. We have an expectation that we can put in software and a process, but once we come down to the actual planning process for implementation, we realize that this is far more complex and the expectations are far higher than anything we have done before.
Usually what we think will happen is that HR will run all sorts of reports that show possible successors for each role, and be able to analyze those candidates so that meaningful conversations can be had with the appropriate successors. We think this because we don’t really believe that a bunch of executives is going to sift through complex, detailed data on each possible successor. However, this also means that the business process for Succession Planning is more complex than just the analysis. In performance, we have a pretty reliable expectation that managers can figure it out. In Succession, we have every reason to believe that HR business partners and leaders are going to have a series of meetings with executives to reach a final understanding of what the succession landscape looks like – and most of this happens outside of software.
When we really get down to it, Succession probably really is our greatest want and need. When we get down to it, Succession really is more complex than we expect it to be. However, we need to get succession right. If we think Succession is bad, wait until we get to topics like workforce mobility and areas that are so cross functional and multi-threaded that we have multiple HR organizations interacting with multiple business organizations.