Succession Planning: You're Doing It Wrong

Ways to Make it Right

It’s never fun to find out you’re wrong (If only I were speaking theoretically). However, it can lessen the sting when you know that you’re not the only one. That is the case with succession planning across the corporate landscape today.

Succession planning is not working for a majority of businesses today, and that’s not because it doesn’t work. It’s because most companies are doing it wrong—using outdated, hierarchical models for a workforce that is rapidly changing in terms of demographics and psychographics.

Is your business and HR team one of the few getting it right? Is your business aware of its most critical roles and knowledge-holders or are you at risk of stumbling into skill, intellectual property and leadership gaps that could stunt business growth? Let’s find out.

The Millennial Factor: They Change Things.

Millennials have and will continue to change the workforce and the workplace. With their numbers now surpassing those of Gen X workers in the workplace, millennials—tech savvy and change-accepting as they are—are ushering in cultural shifts to which succession planning has to adapt. For example, research shows that millennial workers want more transparency in the workplace and more frequent, relevant feedback on their performance. Yearly performance reviews are not enough, which is why companies like Adobe and Accenture have made waves for getting rid of annual reviews and are adopting new approaches to employee feedback. That condensing feedback loop has a material effect on successful planning, which relies on performance reviews to identify and track rising stars and future leaders.

It’s also important to note that most millennials want to see how their work is a part of something bigger. They are more likely to want to have purpose in their work and know they can influence business direction and results. It’s a challenge for old school succession models that focus resources and planning around select leadership roles.

Three Common Succession Planning Mistakes.

This trio of succession planning mistakes occurs at many companies. Is your business still trying old school approaches on a new kind of workforce?

  1. Is Your Planning Retirement-Centric?

Succession planning has long been structured around retirement and executive management attrition. By planning around the departure of senior staff, companies overlook many of the seismic employment shifts that happen at various levels across the modern business. Today, even mid-level roles in product development, customer relationship management and technology can have powerful impact on the business. Rather than looking toward retirement and the end of careers, businesses need to focus succession planning on the future: What are the skills we will need to drive our business forward? How will changes in work roles and responsibilities today affect our talent and leadership needs tomorrow?

  1. Are You Too Focused on Executive Management?

Many succession planning programs today are top heavy. They narrowly focus resources, planning and development on executive leadership without committing enough time or planning to the paths of high-potential team members at lower ranks. As organizations flatten out and millennial values reshape the workplace, it’s important to engage and understand the talent in the middle—who they are, how they advance and where they want to go. After all, they are your future leaders.

       3.  Do You Set It and Forget It?

Another mistake that is common to succession planning today is that it stops. In the succession planning process, a business learns who’s coming up in the ranks. Once that is known and planned, their succession plans are “all set.” But taking your eyes off the ball is a risky approach in today’s gig economy where company org charts change faster than the seasons. A plan that made sense one year ago might not work at all today. Succession planning has to become a living program, adapting to inevitable and continuous changes in the workplace, in business strategy and in the dynamic global marketplace.

Making It Right: Three Tips for Improving Success Planning Now.

The good news is succession planning is something that can evolve quickly, adapting alongside your changing workforce to protect the business and fueling strong talent development. Here are three tips to get you started on updating your succession planning to meet the demands of today.

  1. Focus on Key Roles

Identify key roles across the business that shape strategy and drive bottom line success. For many years, those roles were easy to find by going right to the C-suite where the CEO, COO and CFO worked. Now as social media, data analytics, customers and technology disruptions reshape businesses around the world, key roles can be found at many levels and in many departments. Good succession planning today identifies critical stakeholders and knowledge keepers across the organization so that business moves forward even when employee careers and paths change.

  1. Know Your SPoFs

With good succession planning, the future is very bright but I am not talking about sunscreen when I say SPoFs. Single Points of Failure (SPoFs) in succession planning are the roles which require highly specialized knowledge that cannot be acquired by an outside source. These keepers of intellectual capital can also be found at various levels in an organization. For example, if your company only has one person across the entire company knows how to run and deliver payroll, you have found an SPoF. Many businesses will have SPoFs who develop complex or proprietary products or build software and business systems. Ensuring there are key plans for transition when SPoFs go (retire, change jobs, expand their families, relocate, win the lottery, etc.) is another key element of succession planning in today’s dynamic environment.

  1. Identify & Engage the Acceleration Pool – Your Most Valuable Asset

Good succession planning fuels the development of a bright, committed and enthusiastic “Acceleration Pool,” which is made up of high-potential employees who show strong aptitude for future management and leadership positions. As important as it is for succession planners to identify employees for the Acceleration Pool, it’s equally important to build a dynamic development program that incorporates the feedback, purpose and engagement today’s changing workforce demands.

Let Go to Hold On.

While much of this blog was focused on convincing readers to let go of succession planning practices that can hold your workforce back, I also want to remind businesses of the value of holding on. Organizations that can nurture and hold on to the talented people who fill their key roles, who have critical leadership skills and who know and value company culture are businesses with the best foundation for growth and innovation. Isn’t it time your business let go so your workforce can take hold of the future?