Is This the Biggest Risk to Your Succession Plan?

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In my last blog post “Only 14% of Talent Management Programmes Work.  What Can You Do About It?” I talked about why it’s important to have a joined up approach to succession and talent management that creates a fit between the ambitions of an organisation and its leaders.

Let me share a story of why this is important and the impact it had on an organisation I used to work for.

The Big Risk With Any Succession Plan

Before I became self-employed I worked as Leadership & OD Director for a global insurance company.  And I was responsible for the talent management and succession plan processes.

After weeks and months of preparation, it was time to facilitate the Talent Review meeting where we were going to agree on the Succession Plan for the Executive Board.  The majority of names were agreed easily.  A minority generated a lot of discussions.

One of the Business Unit Heads in London was a character.  He was about 55 with greying hair and a ruddy complexion that indicated a life of long lunches in the City.  The name in the frame as his successor was a well-respected employee in the head office in Bermuda and there was little dispute about his ability and potential.  I asked how such a move would be perceived by the employee in question.  His response was “Don’t worry.  He’ll be made up.  He’s a good bloke; ambitious.  His wife doesn’t work and his kids aren’t at school yet so there won’t be any issue with him moving to London”  Sure enough, his name was added to the Succession Plan.

6 months later the Head of the Business Unit left the company as part of a reorganisation and so the man named on the succession plan got the inevitable tap on the shoulder.  And how do you think he responded?  He said “No thanks.  I’ve never wanted the management responsibility that comes with being a head of a department.  I get a better bonus by being a specialist and my wife won’t leave her family in Bermuda.”

The whole succession plan fell over because it hadn’t taken into account the career aspirations of the employee involved.  And he decided that since the company clearly had a different view of his future than he did, he would be better leaving.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a job move that you didn’t want or anticipate, you’ll know how he felt.

So this highly talented employee went to a competitor.

The point is that talented employees have always managed their careers.  If you want to retain them, you need to help them manage their careers within your organisation.  And the way you do that is by taking employee aspirations into account in your Talent Review and Succession Plan processes.

Of course, that relies on talking to employees about their career aspirations.  In my next blog post I’ll talk about the big mistake most organisations make when trying to address this.

Take Action

Do you want to improve your succession planning?  If so, there’s no better start than my eBook, LEADER – Develop remarkable leaders who deliver amazing results.

In just a few pages you’ll discover six practical strategies for developing your leadership talent.  You can download the report by clicking the button below

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2 thoughts on “Is This the Biggest Risk to Your Succession Plan?”

  1. John Briggs & Gale Miller of the Solutions Behavioral Health Group Milwaukee did some research on the job interview process. Among the mistakes organizations make hiring people the say, Think in terms of ‘emergence’. Hiring creates a change. Plus, you can’t ever replace or replicate the current situation. Choosing a person creates a new situation. Different kinds of people will create different situation / direction. So, should we choose a person, or a future situation based on the future we (and they) want?

    Sounds exactly the same in succession planning.

    1. A good point Alan. One of the key issues is that, in looking for successors, executives sometimes look for someone who is going to “fill their shoes”, some form of super-clone who is going to contribute everything the current incumbent contributes only more and better. But every person is unique and different. And succession planning should be about facilitating the change the organisation needs for the future, not maintaining the status quo.

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