With so many clients revisiting their succession plans currently, in this insight I’m going to offer some insights into where I’ve seen organisations getting it right over my last 30 years of working in this area.
To cut to the chase, I firmly believe that data, about your people and your future business, needs to drive all your succession activity.
Succession planning deemed too hard
One thing I know from my work at Kiddy is that not many organisations feel they get it right – even those seen by their peers as being best in class. Often succession planning is put into the “too hard to do properly” category or it becomes a tick box exercise – which I think this is, even more, the case in the current Covid climate where it’s not only our futures that look uncertain but, for many organisations, our present is equally unclear. I have been in senior talent reviews of global PLCs where the CEO and Chair have giggled when they see who is slated for the most critical roles in the business – clearly, a stress-inducing time for the HRD! Getting it right isn’t easy, but it is critical for the future of the business and the credibility of HR.
Part of the problem is that there isn’t a standard template for how to do it – yes, many organisations will run talent boards and have talent pools etc, but they all do it in different ways. There is little agreement about what flow rates from one level of talent pool to the next, what ratio should be designated as talent (in one global insurer I worked with it was mandated that 5% of every level had to be high potential). We’re talking to a major organisation in the oil and gas sector who are finding they’re appointing leaders in their early 30’s into EVP roles – who aren’t yet ready for the move – because they hadn’t done enough forecasting and been aware of the external talent shortage. So, we work with our clients to help them understand their attrition rates at different levels through, for example, retirements and use this to forecast their needs within the current organisation structure.
Planning for the future
The most difficult part of succession planning is the future-oriented element; what kind of leader are you going to need for your tomorrow? In March, at the start of the UK Covid lockdown, there was significant discussion about how the changes in working practices would render traditional command and control leadership unviable in the future; organisations were demanding humility in leadership and different skills they hadn’t previously sought in their leaders. From what I see, many leaders are returning to old habits. But the bigger question is what do you need – what will the organisation look like; how do you know what roles you’re likely to have in five years? This is where the link to the business strategy comes to the fore and the HR community needs to be able to engage with the commercial challenges the business will be facing. When I started working in this arena most organisations still tried to write future-focused org charts that they could line leaders up against, but most clients have progressed to the point where they are working to identify the broad groups of skills that will be needed. This allows them to have a holistic view of what is needed.
The supply side of succession
So, having considered the data you need on demand side of the succession equation, the next question is about supply – who do you have currently, how will that change in the short-term and what is the most effective way of ensuring we have the capability we’re likely to need in five years’ time? As a business psychologist one of the ways I can really add value to a client is through providing clarity on the supply side of succession, i.e. who have you got, how good are they, how good might they be in the future, and what do those leaders want from their careers? We use a variety of tools and techniques to really stretch leaders to see what they may be capable of, balancing this with a person-centred approach of understanding personal goals and drivers.
This enables us to provide individual leaders with detailed feedback on how they can realise their goals, focus them on the challenge ahead and engage them in their journey. For our clients, we provide detailed group reporting showing how their leaders match the needs of their organisation’s tomorrow and what steps they must take to prepare their leaders for those challenges.