BusinessDay

How to facilitate leadership succession in your organisation (2)

Succession planning helps an organisation manage its pool of candidates. The aim is to keep track of the number and quality of business leaders who can contribute to their effective performance.

Subject to the succession management’s scope and the organisation’s culture and readiness, note the following pitfalls to a formal succession planning programme and consider them when implementing your succession management programme.

First is the resistance to change. Succession planning is one initiative that can be done incrementally. Enhance existing selection and performance management programs to show the value and importance of building internal bench strength. Introduce the ideas of waning skill sets in the labour market and internal talent that can quickly be developed.

If traditional step-by-step succession planning does not work for specific functions, consider individual skill development opportunities such as enrichment, enlargement, and cross-training as sources for enhancing employee skill sets.

Lack of support by persons of influence. Succession planning can be a tough sell if outspoken naysayers get the floor. Find the source of their scepticism, and present facts and figures to support the program and neutralise issues such as concerns that jobs are at risk, worries about costs or loss of productivity, tendencies to promote knowledge-hoarding rather than knowledge-sharing, and organisational silos.

Lack of equal employment opportunity. Succession planning involves preparing employees for possible future roles; it is no pre-selection. If the succession planning program is rooted in diversity and equal employment opportunity, employees’ ultimate selection to fill new roles will focus. During the succession planning process, choose positions generally filled from within, work to identify several potential feeder roles and incumbents, and ensure everyone knows that succession planning is intended to match the organisation’s needs with the employees’ interests. It makes no promises.

Weakness in performance management. Suppose the organisation has not had a consistent practice of giving honest performance feedback. In that case, it is not only an obstacle for succession planning but also a bad business practice that needs immediate correction. Educate managers about the legal and ethical reasons for giving honest feedback. Employees deserve to know when their behaviour or performance is meeting expectations. They also deserve the chance to improve their behaviour or performance when it does not. There are four essential factors in an effective performance management programme:

1. A feedback process that is continuous and timely throughout the review period so employees know how they are doing and what is expected.

2. A dialogue that includes performance feedback measured against clear and specific goals and expectations established at the outset of the performance management cycle.

3. A documented process for acknowledging the performance review process’s outcomes between the manager and the employee.

4. A two-way individual conversation between the manager and the employee (preferably face-to-face) at least once a year.

Manager resistance. A succession planning process involves asking managers to prepare to let go of their best performers. Approach that challenge by:

1. Fostering a sense that keeping talent within the organisation, wherever it may migrate, is the goal.

2. Holding managers accountable for developing their subordinates and recognising those who excel in that area.

3. Educating managers that employees will recognise as managers-of-choice those who invest in their subordinates’ development will likely have their choice of internal candidates as job vacancies arise.

Lack of time: This issue represents the age-old conflict between time spent and time invested. Consider the time spent recruiting, selecting, training, and managing new employees, not to mention the assimilation learning curve. Compared with those time-consuming activities, the investment in developing incumbents’ skill sets does not seem so daunting. Time invested in succession planning prepares the employee for a more comprehensive array of responsibilities within the organisation.

Organisational silo: One way to address silos in succession planning is to start with a partially shared function among one or more business units. Find leaders who believe in knocking down silos to see if they have jobs that could be feeders into another area. Explore the possibility of temporary assignments in other areas that could be used to develop employees for future roles.

We are rewarding the wrong behaviour. Many employees seem reluctant to share their expertise with others. Often their self-esteem is linked to being the local expert. However, it is in the organisation’s best interest to reward employees who willingly share their expertise and are interested in learning new things.

Read also: How to facilitate leadership succession in your organisation

Lack of leadership participation: Cultivating high-level commitment and support will positively influence the succession planning program. It involves not merely making time to provide learning opportunities for employees; it also consists in leading the culture toward lowering barriers and creating a learning organisation.

Non-alignment with business objectives. When selecting job functions for the program and methods for the transfer of learning, be sure to align them with business operations, practices, and schedules.

Short time thinking: Succession planning is a 12 to 36-month process. Encourage team members and leaders to think long-term and big picture during the program development. Reinforce the concept of preparation and no pre-selection.

Lack of Agility: Responsiveness to new situations, including unexpected ones, and resilience in the face of conditions in the external environment are traits of successful organisations. Having all your knowledge or skill “eggs” in one person’s “basket” is never good business practice.

No plans for knowledge transfer: Succession planning includes identifying skills and competencies next-generation employees need to function well in critical positions. Developing systems to identify and transfer that knowledge and shorten learning curves should be a primary objective—partner with a trainer to determine the best way to promote learning.

Limiting job development to promotion exercise. Succession planning might include job expansion, in addition to job progression. If traditional step-by-step succession planning does not work for specific functions, consider individual skill development opportunities such as enrichment, enlargement, and cross-training as sources for enhancing employee skill sets.

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