It’s that scary time of year again. What ghost may come out of the closet and spook someone? Who is seen as both an angel and devil? Is the path we’re on a trail of terror? No I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about succession planning. Just like our favorite October holiday, it is an annual tradition that tends to involve a lot of costumes, smoke, and mirrors. But there is a better way. HR plays a key role in identifying the tricks to make succession planning a treat. This mean focusing on your purpose, the process, and a playbook.
The trick? Be clear on the purpose. Before you deploy the next succession planning session, ask yourself, what is the purpose of this exercise? In fact, I encourage you to apply the 5 Whys. If your purpose is that it’s important to know our talent, ask why. Do that five times so you can strip it down to a skeleton and see what is essential to your organization. For some companies, the purpose may be accelerating people into leadership roles. But if your executive turnover is really low, beware- that strategy may come back to bite you. The last thing you want is to build a pipeline of supply with no demand. For others, it may be diversifying the skills and experience of your leadership team. Or perhaps it’s intentional rotation of talent across business segments. The treat? Aligning with your organizational priorities and gaining support from leaders. Too often succession planning lurks in the shadows of executives’ minds. A clear purpose makes it an essential business process that earns agenda time throughout the year.
The trick? Simplify the process. Be honest. If you explained your succession planning process to people outside the business world would it make any sense? I actually shared our process with my stylist once and her reaction was priceless- ranging from eye rolling to confusion to horror. The same thing our managers feel when they see the Frankenstein processes we’ve built. We can dismantle this monster with a few simple questions. What data do we need? How will we use it? What can we measure? Why does it matter to business results? The treat? Moving from labels to data insights. One way to make this pivot may be to collect data on executive jobs filled in the last 12-18 months. What percent were filled internally vs. externally? For the internal candidates, what was their 9 box rating? For those filled externally, had internal successors been identified? Were they considered? Why or why not? This can be an insightful discussion and help leaders move the conversation from “he’s high potential” to “she’d make great future leader, but her lack of marketing experience is holding her back.”
The trick? Build talent playbooks. The first spell I’d like to cast is to banish all succession planning binders. I’m quite sure business strategies, customer engagement, and financial forecasting aren’t managed in a binder in your organization. Succession planning needs to be an active, interactive process and we can help leaders keep it alive by creating some simple plays for them to run. Tips on how to talk to their team about performance and potential. Ideas on how to create meaningful development plans. Resources to help with mentoring and sponsorship. Forums to discuss cross team volunteer opportunities. The treat? Seeing succession planning earn the mindshare and timeshare of other core business processes.
Succession planning doesn’t have to be scary. It definitely should not be a life-sucking process. We can move this key talent process out of the dark by shining a light on purpose, process, and a playbook. So treat yourself- and your business- to a simpler, more sustainable, and more impactful approach to succession planning.