Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning. By William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR

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1 Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning By William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR

2 Rothwell & Associates, Inc. There are two forces at work today that are driving organizations to consider some form of succession planning as a component of an overall talent management strategy. Namely, these forces are: the aging of the workforce; and a shortfall in the skills possessed by those available for recruitment. Both are projected to become more pressing. But what is succession planning and how will it address these human resource issues? What are the best practices being applied by successful companies today? How does succession planning differ from replacement planning? When do leaders know that their organization needs a succession planning and management program? What are talent pools, and how are they used? What ten key steps are tied to effective succession planning? What common mistakes are made in establishing succession planning, and how can they be avoided? This white paper answers these questions. By doing so, it provides a starting point to help decision-makers and HR practitioners alike contemplate the ins and outs of a practical succession planning program. What Is Succession Planning, and Why Is It Needed? Succession planning, sometimes called succession management to emphasize the active and continuous nature of the effort, is a process for preparing people to meet an organization s needs for talent over time. As I defined it in my book Effective succession planning (2005, p. 10), succession planning is perhaps best understood as any effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department, or work group by making provision for the development, replacement, and strategic application of key people over time. Geared to developing the internal bench strength of an organization, succession planning is usually part of a larger talent management program that is intended to attract the best through recruitment, keep the best through effective retention practices, and develop the best people through well-targeted talent development efforts. Why is succession planning needed? There are many answers to that question. One of the most important is the aging workforce. Demographers have long been aware that the U.S. workforce is aging, a result of population change. According to labor economist Douglas Braddock, over the period, more job openings are expected to result from replacement needs (34.7 million) than from employment growth in the economy (20.3 million) [Occupational employment projections to 2008 (1999, p.75)] What are the practical consequences of this massive shift in the average age of the workforce? Consider: One in five of all senior executives in the Fortune 500 is eligible for retirement now. About 50% of the entire U.S. government workforce is eligible to retire now. 55% of today s registered nurses can be expected to retire between 2011 and Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning

3 Equally threatening is the current difficulty in finding qualified hires. A January 2006 study by Manpower [Talent Shortage Survey (p.2)], finds that 44% of employers are experiencing difficulty today finding employees with the right skills in particular, there are shortages filling the following roles: 1. Sales Representatives 2. Engineers 3. Nurses 4. Technicians Equally threatening is the current difficulty in finding qualified hires. A January 2006 study by Manpower [Talent Shortage Survey (p.2)], finds that 44% of employers are experiencing difficulty today finding employees 5. with Accountants the right skills in particular, there are shortages filling the following roles: 1. Sales Representatives 6. Administrative Assistants & PA s 2. Engineers 3. Nurses 7. Drivers 4. Technicians 5. Accountants 8. Call Center Operators 6. Administrative Assistants & PA s 7. Drivers 9. Machinists 10. Management/Executive 8. Call Center Operators 9. Machinists 10. Management/Executive How Does Succession Planning Differ from Replacement Planning? How Ask Does a CEO Succession to define succession Planning Differ planning. from Replacement There is a good Planning? chance that, if you do that, you will find that the Ask average a CEO to CEO define confuses succession replacement planning. There planning is a good and chance succession that, if you planning. do that, you But will find they that are not the same. the average CEO confuses replacement planning and succession planning. But they are not the same. Replacement planning assumes that the organization chart will remain unchanged over time. It usually identifies Replacement planning assumes that the organization chart will remain unchanged over time. It usually backups for top-level positions, as they are identified on the organization chart, and stops there. A typical identifies backups for top-level positions, as they are identified on the organization chart, and stops there. replacement A typical replacement chart will chart list will about list about 3 people 3 people as as backups for each top-level position position and and will usually indicate how will usually indicate how ready each person is to assume the role of the current job incumbent. (See ready Exhibit each 1) person is to assume the role of the current job incumbent. (See Exhibit 1) Succession planning, planning, contrast, in contrast, focuses on focuses developing on people developing rather than people merely rather naming than them merely as naming them as replacements. replacements. Its goal is to Its build goal is deep to build bench deep bench strength strength throughout the organization so so that, that, whenever whenever a vacancy occurs, the a vacancy occurs, the organization has many qualified candidates internally that may be considered for organization advancement. has many qualified candidates internally that may be considered for advancement. In most In most cases, cases, organizational organizational leaders recognize leaders recognize that it is wiser that to focus it is wiser beyond to replacement focus beyond planning replacement to planning to succession succession planning to build the long-term sustainability and viability of the organization. planning to build the long-term sustainability and viability of the organization. Exhibit 1: A Sample Replacement Chart Exhibit 1: A Sample Replacement Chart Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning 3

4 Rothwell & Associates, Inc. When Do You Know That Your Organization Needs a Succession Planning and Management Program? Several common symptoms, if they appear in an organization, may indicate the need for a more systematic approach to succession planning. Among them: The organization has conducted a retention risk analysis, a process of estimating the projected departure dates for each individual in the workforce or work group, for reasons of retirement or otherwise. The organization has no way to respond quickly to sudden, surprise losses of key talent. If a key person is suddenly lost due to death, disability or resignation, it may take a long time to find a suitable replacement. The time it takes to fill positions what is called the time-to-fill metric is unknown or is perceived by managers to be too long. Managers at one or many levels complain that they have trouble finding people ready for promotion or else have trouble finding people who are willing to accept promotions as vacancies occur. Workers complain that promotion decisions are made unfairly or capriciously. Women, minorities, and other groups protected by law are not adequately represented at various levels and in various functions throughout the organization. Critical turnover that is, the percentage of high potential workers leaving is higher than the number of fully successful (average) workers leaving. What Are Talent Pools, and How Are They Used? A talent pool is a group of people being prepared for more challenging responsibilities. Individuals to be placed in talent pools may be surfaced by various means. One approach is to ask managers to assess and nominate people. Another approach is to apply objective assessment methods such as multi-rater full-circle assessments to identify individuals who are likely to be worthwhile to develop for future responsibility. Talent pools dramatize the difference between replacement planning and succession planning. In replacement planning, individuals are usually identified as backups for specific positions. But replacement planning encourages promotions only in silos of specialization. In contrast, succession planning encourages managers at all levels to regard talent in any part of the organization as a possible successor for positions immediately above them. Hence, talent pools may be identified underneath each level on the organization chart but are not tied to specific positions at the next higher levels. (See Exhibit 2) In many cases, talent pools are filled from the bottom up. High potential candidates being prepared for possible promotion are placed in talent pools. Of course, no promises are made to people who enter pools that they will actually receive promotions. Instead, the organization commits to help individuals prepare themselves to qualify for higher levels of responsibilities. But it is up to individuals to continue to perform well in their current jobs while also preparing themselves to meet the new challenges at higher levels of responsibility. Successfully implemented, when a vacancy occurs, the organization will have a pool of internal candidates ready to meet the challenge. 4 Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning

5 Exhibit 2: A Sample Talent Pool Chart Exhibit 2: A Sample Talent Pool Chart What Ten Key Steps Are Tied to Effective Succession Planning? What Ten Key Steps Are Tied to Effective Succession Planning? Think of implementing systematic succession planning as making a long-term organizational change. Succession planning requires more of a commitment to a longer-term, strategic view of how to meet talent needs than short-term, and sometimes panic-driven, efforts to fill vacancies as they occur. It can be established Think of and implementing operated using systematic ten key steps succession that have been planning field-tested as making many a organizations, long-term organizational change. Succession industries, planning and requires economic more sectors. of a (See commitment Exhibit 3.) to a longer-term, strategic view of how to meet talent needs than shortterm, One: and A first sometimes step for any panic-driven, systematic succession efforts to effort fill is vacancies to clarify the as senior they leaders occur. expectations It can be established and operated using Step and ten preferences key steps for that a succession have been program. field-tested After Sarbanes-Oxley, in many organizations, corporate Boards industries, have become and economic more sectors. (See Exhibit 3.) active in succession planning. A fundamental mistake, and a formula for disaster, is to dump the responsibility for the succession effort on the Human Resources department. Step One: A first step for any systematic succession effort is to clarify the senior leaders expectations and While preferences the Human for Resources a succession function program. or other parts After of the Sarbanes-Oxley, organization must corporate participate, Boards the leadership have become more active in responsibility for succession planning rests with the CEO. If he or she does not favor systematic succession planning. A fundamental mistake, and a formula for disaster, is to dump the responsibility for the succession planning, it cannot be successful. succession effort on the Human Resources department. Step Two: A second step is to establish competency models by talent pool considering the positions that will While be fed the by Human that pool. Resources A competency function model is or a narrative other parts description of the of organization the knowledge, must skills, participate, attitudes, the leadership responsibility and other abilities that lead to exemplary performance. Competency models provide blueprints of the talent for succession to build at present planning and in rests the future. with In the short, CEO. a competency If he or she model does describes not favor "what systematic should be" for succession planning, it cannot be such successful. hierarchical levels as executives, managers, supervisors, salespersons, technical professionals, or other groups. Alternatively, competency models may be created for specific departments. A recent innovation in some corporations has been to articulate the organization's ethics, values and code of Step conduct Two: and A then second rate individuals step is to against establish that as competency well as against models competencies. by talent Ethics, pool values considering and the positions that will codes be fed of conduct by that provide pool. A a basis competency by which to model assess is individuals a narrative against description a dimension of that the goes knowledge, beyond skills, attitudes, and other what it takes to get good results on the job abilities that lead to exemplary performance. Competency models provide blueprints of the talent to build at present and in the future. In short, a competency model describes what should be for such hierarchical levels Step Three: A third step is to conduct individualized multi-rater, full-circle assessment. The idea is to assess as executives, individuals against managers, the competencies supervisors, required salespersons, for success technical in an organization. professionals, The results or of other a groups. Alternatively, multi-rater, competency full-circle models assessment may be usually created indicate for gaps specific between departments. what competencies A recent an individual innovation in some corporations has been currently possesses and what he or she should possess to be successful. to articulate the organization s ethics, values and code of conduct and then rate individuals against that as well as against competencies. Ethics, values and codes of conduct provide a basis by which to assess individuals against a dimension that goes beyond what it takes to get good results on the job Step Three: A third step is to conduct - individualized 4 - multi-rater, full-circle assessment. The idea is to assess individuals against the competencies required for success in an organization. The results of a multi-rater, full-circle assessment usually indicate gaps between what competencies an individual currently possesses and what he or she should possess to be successful. Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning 5

6 Rothwell & Associates, Inc. Step Four: Step A Four: fourth A step fourth is step to establish to establish (or reengineer) (or reengineer) an organizational performance management system. One fact system. of One life fact is that of individuals life is that are individuals seldom eligible are seldom for promotion, eligible advancement, for promotion, or advancement, other developmental or other opportunities if they developmental are not opportunities performing successfully if they are in not their performing current jobs. successfully Individuals must in their thus current be measured, jobs. Individuals as objectively must as possible, thus be measured, against the performance as objectively expectations as possible, for against their current the performance level of responsibility. expectations for their current level of responsibility. Exhibit 3: A Step-By-Step Model to Establish and Maintain a Systematic Succession Planning Program Exhibit 3: A Step-By-Step Model to Establish and Maintain a Systematic Succession Planning Program Step Five: A fifth step is to assess individual potential for success at higher levels of responsibility. Unlike past or Step Five: A fifth step is to assess individual potential for success at higher levels of responsibility. Unlike present-oriented performance management, potential assessment focuses on the future. Some means must exist past or present-oriented performance management, potential assessment focuses on the future. Some means must to examine exist to the examine talent available the talent for future available possibilities--and for future possibilities--and advancement. Regular advancement. potential assessment Regular provides the potential means assessment to do just provides that. the means to do just that. Step Six: A sixth step is to establish a means of regular, ongoing individual development planning. Once it is clear Step Six: A sixth step is to establish a means of regular, ongoing individual development planning. Once it is clear what what present present and and future future gaps gaps exist exist for individuals for individuals as a result as a of result performance of performance assessment assessment and potential and assessment, potential some assessment, means should some be means established should to be help established them prepare to for help the them future prepare by narrowing for the those future gaps. by To that end, narrowing individual those gaps. workers--and To that end, their immediate individual supervisors--devise workers--and their a immediate plan to help supervisors--devise individuals develop themselves a plan to and help individuals thereby develop prepare for themselves possible future and promotions. thereby prepare for possible future promotions. Step Seven: Step A Seven: seventh A seventh step is step to implement is to implement individual individual development development plans plans (IDPs). (IDPs). There are various ways ways by which by which to to do do that. One One way way is to is establish to establish in-house in-house leadership leadership and management and management development development programs. A second way is programs. to A develop second competency way is to develop menus, in competency print or online, menus, that provide in print specific or online, developmental that provide suggestions specific for individuals. developmental Examples suggestions of developmental for individuals. suggestions Examples might include of developmental books to read, suggestions classroom courses might to include attend, books online courses to read, classroom in which to courses participate, to on-the-job attend, online assignments courses to in seek which out, to and participate, action learning on-the-job projects assignments that bring together groups seek out, of and people action to solve learning practical projects business that problems bring together while simultaneously groups of people permitting to solve the practical means by business which to build problems while simultaneously permitting the means by which to build competence in new areas. competence in new areas. 6 Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning Step Eight: An eighth step is to establish a talent inventory. Increasingly, decision-makers must be able

7 to find the organization s talent on short notice. To that end, they must have information about the pools of talent Step that Eight: the organization An eighth is step developing is to establish and has readily a talent on tap inventory. so that teams Increasingly, can be marshaled decision-makers must be able to find short the notice organization s to fight fires, talent seize opportunities, on short notice. outdraw To competitors, that end, they and fill must vacancies. have information about the pools of talent that the organization is developing and has readily on tap so that teams can be marshaled on short notice to fight fires, seize As part of this step, it may also be useful to create depth and development charts to show how many opportunities, outdraw competitors, and fill vacancies. As part of this step, it may also be useful to create depth and people fall into different categories. Different HR strategies may be needed to manage individuals in different development talent grids. charts An example to show of a how talent many grid appears people in fall Exhibit into 4. different categories. Different HR strategies may be needed to manage individuals in different talent grids. An example of a talent grid appears in Exhibit 4. Exhibit 4: A Talent Grid Exhibit 4: A Talent Grid Step Nine: A ninth step is to establish accountability for the systematic succession planning effort. Individuals and Step Nine: A ninth step is to establish accountability for the systematic succession planning effort. Individuals--and their bosses must their bosses--must be held be accountable, held accountable, for cultivating for their talents over over time time and and closing closing developmental gaps. developmental Otherwise, gaps. individual Otherwise, development individual development plans will plans not be will realized. not be realized. Often, Often, financial financial incentives for talent development can incentives for talent development can help. For instance, individuals can be given bonuses if they achieve their help. developmental For instance, objectives, individuals and supervisors can be can given be given bonuses bonuses if they if their achieve workers their achieve developmental their objectives, and supervisors developmental can be given objectives. bonuses Alternatively, if their workers periodic achieve meetings may their be developmental held in which individuals objectives. must Alternatively, report periodic meetings may on how well they are implementing their individual development plans, and senior executives may report to the be CEO held or in the which Board individuals on how well must their employees report on have how been well progressing they are implementing toward realizing their individual development plans, and individual senior development executives plans. may report to the CEO or the Board on how well their employees have been progressing toward Step realizing Ten: A tenth their and individual final step development is to evaluate the plans. results of the systematic succession planning effort. Often, the time-to-fill metric is a key measure of success. How long does it take to fill positions with qualified Step applicants? Ten: A tenth While and not final directly step a financial is to evaluate measure, the results time to fill of does the translate systematic into financial succession planning effort. Often, the terms. Productivity is lost, and so are opportunities, when vacancies exist in today s right sized corporate settings. time-to-fill metric is a key measure of success. How long does it take to fill positions with qualified applicants? While not directly a financial measure, the time to fill does translate into financial terms. Productivity is lost, and so are opportunities, when vacancies exist in today s right sized corporate settings Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning 7

8 Rothwell & Associates, Inc. What Common Mistakes Are Made in Establishing Succession Planning, and How Can They Be Avoided? Many mistakes are commonly made in establishing succession planning programs. They are worth enumerating. It is also worthwhile to describe some ways to avoid these common mistakes. Mistake #1: Assuming that Success at One Level Will Guarantee Success at Higher Levels. An individual s success at one level is no guarantee of success at higher levels of responsibility. The reason is simple: the competencies required for success at each level are different. Hence, it is important to separate thinking about how well someone does his or her current job and how well he or she might do a job at a higher responsibility level. Mistake #2: Assuming that Bosses Are Always the Best Judges of Who Is Promotable. A second mistake is to assume that, for purposes of succession planning, bosses are always the best judges of who is promotable. That is not always true. Bosses are self-interested players in the succession game. They have a stake in what happens to people. Indeed, some bosses do not want to see their best people promoted for fear of an inability to replace them. Some bosses grade people by their own standards with the result that some individuals who are quite unlike the boss are not considered for promotion. While the support of a boss is useful in developing individuals, more objective assessments, such as multi-rater assessment are excellent in aiding the manager s assessment. Mistake #3: Assuming that Promotions Are Rewards. Some employees have an entitlement mentality in which they feel that long service with an organization should always be rewarded with promotions. But business decisions must be based on who will do the best job, not who is owed a promotion because of greatest seniority. Workers must continually be reminded that doing jobs at each level requires different competencies, and the best way for them to compete is to prepare for future challenges rather than expect promotions for past performance at a different level of responsibility. Mistake #4: Trying to Do Too Much Too Fast. The strong results-orientation of many organizations today emphasizes quick results. Senior leaders expect to see all the components of a comprehensive succession system in place immediately. That is not always realistic. It is advisable to think of implementing systematic succession in a phased way either from the top down or else starting in specific divisions or locations with greatest need. Mistake #5: Giving No Thought to What to Call It. A fifth mistake is to devote no time to considering what to call the succession program. As any marketer knows, product names do matter. It is not necessary to call a spade a spade. Many organizations choose alternative names--such as leadership development program, human capital management program, or even talent program. Mistake #6: Assuming that Everyone Wants a Promotion. A sixth mistake is to assume that everyone wants a promotion. That is not always true today. In many downsized organizations, workers have seen what pressures their bosses have to deal with. Some say leave me out of that. Hence, it is unwise to assume that everyone wants a promotion or even to assume that money will convince everyone. It will not. Check first. Find out what people want to do. For that reason, many organizations launch both a top-down succession planning program and a bottom-up career planning program to galvanize development efforts both among managers and among individuals. 8 Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning

9 Conclusion The world faces a quiet crisis of succession. As the global workforce ages and the skills gap increases, increasing attention will be paid to establishing and maintaining effective succession planning programs. CEOs, managers, human resource practitioners and even individuals have important roles to play in that effort. There is a practical approach to the work that must be done if organizations are to establish and sustain systematic efforts to ensure that the right people will be in the right places and at the right times to do the right things so as to achieve the right results. Author s Biosketch William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR (see is Professor of Workplace Learning and Performance in the Workforce Education and Development program on the University Park campus of The Pennsylvania State University. He is also an active consultant specializing in succession planning and management and issues related to it. Among his best-known publications are Effective succession planning, 3rd edition (Amacom, 2005), Career planning and succession management (Greenwood, 2005), The strategic development of talent (HRD Press, 2003), The competency toolkit (HRD Press, 2000), building in-house leadership and management development programs (Quorum, 1999), and The action learning guidebook (Wiley/Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer, 1999). Halogen esuccession Halogen Software offers a practical and affordable automated succession planning tool that fully supports the advanced practices presented by Dr Rothwell and other experts in this area. Halogen esuccession makes it easy for organizations to focus on developing people rather than merely replacing them. It helps organizations establish a larger number of promotable employees, who are more likely to stay with the company and who s skills are better aligned with their strategic plans. Visit for more information. You can also take a Product Tour or sign up for a Free Trial today. Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning 9

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