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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

( FAQs) ABOUT SUCCESSION

PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT

1. What is succession planning?

Simply stated, succession planning is a process of developing talent to meet

the needs of the organization now and in the future. Every time a manager

makes a work assignment, he or she is preparing someone for the future because

he or she is building that worker’s ability. Work experience builds competence,

and different kinds of work experience build different kinds of

competence.

2. How is succession planning different from replacement planning?

Replacement planning is about finding backups to fill vacancies on an organization

chart. But succession planning is about grooming the talent needed for

the future. They are related but different activities.

3. Why is succession planning needed?

Organizational leaders need to think about aligning their staffing and leadership

needs with the organization’s future strategic objectives. If they do not

take action to establish an effective succession planning and management program,

they are likely to fall victim to the so-called like me problem. That is the

dilemma in which people are biased to pick other people like themselves,

viewing them more favorably. It is not intentional discrimination but, rather,

human nature—to see the world through our own lenses. For that reason,

men tend to prefer men, women prefer women, engineers prefer engineers,

and so forth. The more ways that you are like your boss, the more likely your

boss is to regard you favorably. Since there is a tendency to want to ‘‘clone’’

job incumbents for successors, organizations must take steps to counteract

that built-in bias, for the simple reason that the job incumbent of today, while

perhaps perfectly suited for the business environment now, may not be suitable

for the business environment of the future. For that reason, organizational

leaders must take steps to determine how many and what kind of people

are needed for the future so that succession plans can pick winners who can

help the organization realize its strategic objectives.

4. Why are organizational leaders interested in succession planning

and management now?

Many organizations are experiencing the effects of aging workforces that are

putting them at risk of losing their most experienced workers to retirement.

At the same time, concerns about terrorism have raised the stakes on prudent

planning to ensure that leaders, and other key workers, have backups in case

they are needed. Finally, years of downsizing and other cost-cutting measures

have reduced the internal bench strength of many organizations so that it is

more difficult to find internal replacements. Since most managers do not want

to wait a long time to fill critical positions, and organizations have downsized

such that external talent is not readily available, many organizational leaders

are taking steps now to ‘‘grow their own talent,’’ particularly for those hardto-

fill internal positions that require extensive, unique knowledge of ‘‘the way

we do things here.’’

5. What are the essential components of a succession planning

program?

Think about the following:

The Purpose of the Program. Why do you need it? (Do not assume that

all executives of the organization will just naturally share the same objectives.

They will not. Some will want some things; others will want

others. But confused goals will not lead to effective results.)

The Measurable Objectives of the Program. What measurable results are

desired from it over time?

The Competencies Needed for Success Now. What kind of person is

needed to be a successful performer in every department and at every

organizational level?

The Way Those Competencies Are Measured. How well is the organization’s

performance management system measuring present competencies?

(That is needed because we only want to promote those who are

succeeding in their current jobs.)

The Competencies Needed for Success in the Future. What kind of person

is needed to be a successful performer in every department, and at

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Succession Planning and Management 333

every organizational level in the future, if the organization is to realize

its strategic objectives?

The Way the Organization Assesses Potential. How do we know that

someone can succeed at a future, higher level of responsibility if we

have never seen him or her perform it? (Think of this as measuring

performance against future, as yet unperformed, job challenges.)

Narrowing Gaps. How do we narrow gaps between the person’s present

job requirements and present performance and his or her future targets

or possible future levels and what he or she needs to know or do to be

ready for that higher-level or more difficult responsibility?

Evaluating Results. How do we know that our efforts to narrow gaps

are working and that the succession program is achieving its mission

and accomplishing its measurable objectives?

6. How does an organization get started establishing and

implementing a succession planning and management program if it has

not had one before?

Start by ‘‘making the business case,’’ which means ‘‘showing a compelling

business need to establish and implement a succession program.’’ (Some people

say ‘‘find a burning platform.’’) Based on that case, establish the goals to

be addressed by the program. How exactly do you make the business case?

Here are some possibilities:

Conduct a study of the projected retirements in your organization by

going to your payroll system and asking for a report that shows the

projected retirement dates of everyone on the payroll. Then dig deeper

to see projected retirement dates by job level (position on the organization

chart), geographical location, department, job code, and any other

specifics that may be important to your organization. Then do the same

work by examining projected retirement dates over rolling three-year

periods. Remember that some people will not retire when they are eligible,

but you are simply assessing risks.

Ask executives what would happen if the whole senior team was wiped

out at once in a plane crash, car accident, or bombing of corporate

headquarters.

Ask each manager how he or she would advise handling his or her sudden

loss due to death, disability, or accident. Who is the backup, and

how did he or she determine that person?

Of course, you may be able to come up with some other ways to build a business

case, depending on the unique business conditions that your organization

faces. But start with a persuasive argument, since succession planning is

one of those things like buying burial plots that everyone knows should be

done but wants to put off doing. (In fact, the old joke is that succession is

something we are too busy to do when business is good and too expensive to

do when business is bad. The result is that we never do it.)

7. What’s the return-on-investment for succession planning and

management programs?

Nobody knows the average ROI for succession planning and management programs.

Even best-in-class companies have not effectively measured it. (By the

way, what is the ROI of your accounting department?) Determine ROI by starting

with the measurable objectives to be achieved by the program. Find out

what it costs—and how long it takes—to fill vacancies today. Then find out

what it costs—and how long it takes—to fill vacancies after the succession

planning and management program is up and running. Use these figures to

show the costs and benefits of an SP&M program.

8. What are the most common problems that organizations experience

in getting started on a succession planning and management program?

Common problems in getting started on a succession planning and management

program include:

Defining it as an HR problem rather than as a responsibility shared by

the board of directors, senior leadership team, managers at all levels

of the organization, and even individual workers. Everyone has some

responsibility to groom talent to meet the organization’s future needs.

Understaffing the effort. A good succession program requires time and

effort. Someone must coordinate that. It cannot be ‘‘completely outsourced.’’

Consultants can help, but they cannot ‘‘do it for you.’’ Managers

cannot abdicate responsibility—or accountability.

Establishing confused or overly ambitious goals. If the organization’s

leaders do not focus the succession effort on specific, and measurable,

objectives to be achieved, the succession program will lack goal clarity

and resources will be wasted in pursuing many confusing, overlapping,

and perhaps conflicting goals. You have to be clear about what you want

before a program can be established to accomplish it.

Failing to hold people accountable. This is perhaps the biggest problem

facing all succession programs. What happens if this year’s individual

development plans are not met by an individual? What happens if the

senior executive in charge of a division does not meet measurable talent-

development objectives for his or her division? These questions center

on accountability. Different organizations solve the problem in

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Succession Planning and Management 335

different ways, depending on corporate culture. But the real question

is, ‘‘How do we arrange consequences for building talent or failing to

build talent?’’ ‘‘How does talent development stack up against meeting

the numbers for this week, month, quarter, or year, and what do we

do if we are making profits or sales but not grooming people for the

future?’’

9. What are the biggest benefits that organizations experience from a

succession planning and management program?

If an organization has established an effective succession planning program,

organizational leaders should expect that:

It will take less time and expense to source talent to fill vacancies because

the talent has already been identified and prepared.

People-development efforts have been aligned with the organization’s

strategic objectives so that the right people will be available at the right

times and in the right places to meet the right objectives.

The organization is prepared to deal with sudden, catastrophic losses

of key people.

10. What is the role of the corporate board in a succession planning

and management program? CEO in a succession planning and

management program? What is the senior management team’s role?

What is the HR department’s role? What is the individual’s role?

The board should ensure that an effective succession planning and management

program exists and is actually working effectively.

The CEO is personally responsible for ensuring that an effective succession

planning and management program exists and works effectively. If

he or she does not, it is like a pilot who is not flying the airplane. If the

plane crashes, who is responsible?

Senior managers are like the co-pilots of the airplane. Each is responsible

for establishing talent development objectives for his or her own

division or department and then meeting those objectives.

The HR department provides support for the effort by arranging for the

policies, procedures, technology, and other support to help ensure that

the ‘‘plane flies in the right direction.’’ Think of the HR vice president’s

role as akin to the navigator of the plane. He or she gives advice to the

pilot where and how to fly and provides on-the-spot advice about how

to deal with unique problems, situations, or challenges.

Department managers are responsible for attracting, identifying, developing,

and retaining talent for their respective departments. They

should realize that they are responsible—and accountable—for both

‘‘making the numbers’’ and ‘‘grooming talent to meet the organization’s

future requirements.’’

Individuals are responsible for knowing what they want out of life, their

careers, and the organization. They are also responsible for developing

themselves for the future. While there is nothing wrong with individuals

‘‘wanting to stay where they are’’—particularly if that stems from a

work/life balance decision—individuals have a responsibility to let people

know what their objectives are so long as it does not hurt their own

interests and possible future employability.