The very title of Succession Planning is faulty. Well, it’s at best only partially descriptive. The problem I have with the title is the word “Planning”. Leaders who simply plan will likely not be ready when the time comes to replace a valued employee. Let’s consider an analogy of washing a car. The car will not get clean simply by studying the most efficient and effective car washing strategies, gathering the highest rated cleaning products and scheduling a day and time to complete the task. If the execution does not occur, then the planning work was futile.
A key aspect of this critical business transformation is “Succession Maturity”. Unless people are being developed appropriately, and are ready to assume the role when the time comes, then all of the planning was simply not enough. Selecting high-potential employees, developing a plan to coach and mentor them, and determining a timeline for implementation will not get the selected employees ready to assume a role. Implementation of that plan has to occur. Here is an example of a situation of a plan that did not lead to Succession Maturity:
The Director of Finance is a high performing leader who has the potential to be the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). She has always been in a finance role. If she had sales experience, she would be even more ready to be the CSO. So, her development plan is written to include a job transition to the Director of Sales. However, the CEO would never take the risk of putting someone without sales experience in the top sales job — so her development plan consistently indicates a, “move to a sales job”, even though that will never happen.
A plan is only a plan. If you want true Succession Maturity to occur, it will require a commitment to taking risks, communicating, getting key player buy-in, developing people and growing talent. The plan needs to be simple, clear and, most of all, it needs to be implemented.