When Business Week magazine features an article questioning why Herb Kelleher, CEO of the very successful Southwest Airlines, has not designated and groomed a successor, it exposes a weakness in many companies' strategic thinking. The concept of succession planning has become an important part of many companies' strategic planning but not in all companies.
Too many think of succession planning as having application only in family-owned companies or in large conglomerates. In fact, succession planning should be a part of every company' s strategic plan - your vision of where the company will be going in the future. The reasons for this approach are fairly obvious: If there is no succession planning process, how will the company develop and nurture its human capital? How will you assure a continuing sequence of qualified people to move up and take over when the current generation of managers and key people retire or move on? How will you be able to plan for the future of the company without some assurance that the key posts will be filled with people able to carry on and excel? Succession planning is much more important than the time many companies devote to it would indicate.
What is involved in succession planning? Succession planning is a part of the process of preparing for the future of your company. Does this mean you should only plan a succession path for your CEO? We suggest that virtually every key position and key person in your organization is a candidate for a succession plan. The important impact is that it is virtually impossible to successfully promote someone unless there is a trained person to take over the position being vacated. To effectively implement a succession plan, you need to include/consider a number of elements:
What is the long-term direction of your company? Do you have an effective strategic plan guiding your course and direction?
What are the key areas which require continuity and development of the people resources within your company?
Who are the key people you want to develop and nurture for the future?
How does the concept of succession planning fit into your strategies? Are you concentrating your efforts in the areas where the returns will be highest?
What are the career paths that your most talented people should be following? Is each path customized to fit the abilities and talents of the people involved? The point here is to be sure you do not do this by rote: a plan that is not dynamic, that does not include the consideration of the individual' s involved, is not usually as effective as one that is tailored to each individuals needs and capabilities.
Should you wait for openings to appear before promoting someone, or should you make opportunities for each individual as they grow and mature, so that you can keep them challenged and stimulated, and not lose them to other, possibly faster moving companies? Your plan should be proactive, with people moving into different areas for experience and training before they are needed in critical positions, rather than reactive - waiting for openings to occur, then scurrying around to find an appropriate candidate at the last second.
What strategies should you be considering for your succession-planning process? First, realize that one size doesn' t fit all. There are different approaches which may be used, depending on the situation in each company. In some cases, a company may have to move some people along quickly, in order to expose them to a broad range of experiences, and possibly to fill vacancies. In others, a deeper involvement in selected departments or disciplines may be indicated. Some of this will depend on the culture and processes of the company. In yet other cases, decisions about the process will depend on the individual' s capabilities and competencies, and the structure and operations of the company. In virtually all situations, your ability to educate and promote will depend on the capabilities and strengths of the people who currently occupy the key positions, and where they will be going in the future - what are they being groomed for?