Alternative Approaches

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Experienced managers know that there is more than one way to fill a critical

position.37 Job movements, described in the previous section, represent a traditional

approach, commonly associated with SP&M. Alternative approaches

are probably being increasingly used as managers in cost-sensitive organizations

struggle to meet SP&M challenges while finding themselves restricted in

the external hiring and internal promoting that they may do.

One alternative approach might be called organizational redesign. When a

vacancy occurs in a key position, decision-makers do not automatically ‘‘move

someone into that place’’; rather, they break up the work duties and reallocate

them across the remaining key positions or people. The desired effect is to

reduce headcount while holding results constant. It also develops the remaining

key people by giving them exposure to a new function, activity, or responsibility.

However, if rewards do not match the growing workload, exemplary

performers who have been asked to do more may grow disenchanted. There

is also a limit to how much can be loaded on people before they are incapable

of performing effectively.

A second alternative approach is process redesign. Decision-makers do not

automatically assume that a key position needs to be replaced when it becomes

vacant; rather, they review that function from top to bottom, determining

whether it is necessary at all—and if it can be done in new ways that require

fewer people.

A third alternative approach is outsourcing. Rather than assume that all

key positions need to be performed internally, decision-makers periodically

reassess whether activities can be more cost-effectively handled externally. If

headcount can be reduced through outsourcing, the organization can decrease

succession demands.

A fourth alternative approach involves trading personnel temporarily with

other organizations. This approach builds on the idea that organizations can

temporarily trade resources for their mutual benefit. Excess capacity in one

organization is thus tapped temporarily by others. An advantage of this approach

is that high performers or high potentials who are not immediately

needed by one organization can be pooled for use by others, who usually

offset their salaries and benefits. A disadvantage is that lending organizations

risk losing these talented workers completely if they are spirited away by those

having greater need of their services and greater ability to reward and advance


A fifth alternative approach involves establishing talent pools. Instead of

identifying one likely successor for each critical position, the organization sets

out to develop many people for many positions. That is accomplished by mandated

job rotations so that high potentials gain exposure to many organizational

areas and are capable of making multifaceted contributions. While that

sounds fine in theory, there are practical difficulties with using this approach.

One is that productivity can decline as new leaders play musical chairs and

learn the ropes in new organizational settings.

A sixth alternative approach is to establish two-in-the-box arrangements.

Motorola has been known to use this approach. ‘‘Since most Motorola businesses

are run by a general manager and an assistant general manager, the

assistant slot is used to move executives from one business to another for a

few years so they can gain a variety of experiences.’’38 A form of overstaffing

that would not be appealing to some organizations, this approach permits

individual development through job rotations while preserving leadership

continuity. It is akin to forming an executive team in which traditional functional

senior executives are replaced by a cohesive team that collectively makes

operating decisions, effectively functioning in the place of a chief operating


A seventh alternative approach is to establish competitive skill inventories

of high-potential workers outside the organization. Rather than develop organizational

talent over time, an organization identifies predictable sources of

high-potential workers and recruits them on short notice as needed. A disadvantage

of this approach is that it can engender counterattacks by organizations

that have been ‘‘robbed’’ of talent.

Of course, there are other alternative ways by which to meet successor

needs in key positions. Here is a quick review of a few of them:

Temping. The organization makes it a practice to hire individuals from

outside on a short-term basis to fill in during a search for a successor.

The ‘‘temps’’ become candidates for consideration. If they do not work

out, however, the arrangement can be severed on short notice.

Job Sharing. An experienced employee in a key position temporarily

shares the job with another as a means of on-the-job training—or assessing

how well the candidate can perform.

Part-Time Employment. Prospective candidates for key positions are

brought in on a part-time basis. They are carefully assessed before employment

offers are made.

Consulting. Prospective candidates for key positions are brought in as

consultants on projects related to the position duties. Their performance

is carefully assessed before employment offers are made.

Overtime. Prospective candidates from within the organization are

asked to work in other capacities in addition to their current jobs. This

represents overtime work. The employer then assesses how well the

individuals can perform in the key positions, making allowances for the

unusual pressure under which they are functioning.

Job Rotation. Prospective candidates for key positions are developed

from within by rotating, for an extended time span, into another job or

series of jobs in preparation for the future.

Retirees. The organization looks to individuals with proven track records

to return to critical positions temporarily—or permanently. This

is likely to be a key focus of interest in the future.40

The important point about SP&M is that numerous approaches may be

used to satisfy immediate requirements. However, a continuing and systematic

program is necessary to ensure that talent is being prepared inside the organization.

As a starting point for describing what is needed to decision-makers in

your organization, start with addressing the Frequently Asked Questions

(FAQs) appearing in Appendix I at the end of this book.