Succession planning is a great conversation.
For the organization, it puts plans in place to be used in case of a sudden departure of a key person. It also identifies talent gaps that can be discussed and dealt with before they become emergencies.
For your best people, it creates a vision of the future for them and identifies ways to challenge/develop them over the coming years.
Then there is you, the executive. Maybe not such a great process. You are putting plans in place for after you are gone. You are sharing the talent you have worked hard to hire and develop with the rest of the organization by allowing them to be considered for key roles in other areas. Do we avoid these conversations? The numbers would say yes. First number – only 35% of the CEO’s in the United States have succession plans. Second number – personally only 45% of us have wills.
Talent management is about great conversations. Here are eight questions to ask a leader before starting a succession planning effort:
- I am excited about this process.
- I think this is an important process to do each year.
- I have talked to all my direct reports about what they want to do in the future.
- I have done this before and I feel comfortable/skilled at the process.
- I will make the time (10-20 hrs) to do this work over the next 2 months.
- I am willing to accept input from other peers on my succession list . . . and I will use it.
- I am willing to allow key players from my team to be on succession plans for other groups.
- I feel good about setting up my groups/the organization to be successful after I move on.
Here is a link to this form with a number scale attached.
By naming our reasons for being reluctant, we can at least talk about them. By letting those reason stay hidden there is very real potential to erode trust on the team and leave great talent(people!) unchallenged and unclear about what opportunities exist for them in the future.
I would opt for the great talent management/succession planning conversation started by these 8 questions.
(note: Whenever I speak to groups I provide cards to them in case they have a question I cannot answer during our conversation(fyi: I call all my presentations ‘conversations’). My commitment is that I will blog answers in 2 weeks. This question was submitted to me after my Talent Scorecard presentation at the 2011 Wisconsin SHRM Conference in Madison. I do not edit questions – because my commitment is to answer what is asked.)
Question: How do you recommend supporting momentum once development plans are established?
In our time together the Talent Scorecard revealed that development plans are not being created for employees in general and high potentials. There are 3 foundational things that need to be established are part of building the habit of creating development plans. The foundational keys to a great development plan are: (fyi: I will use the term follower – if you are wondering why see this post)
- It comes out of a great performance conversation. By great I mean that the leader and follower sit down and agree on a couple of areas that are job related and one goal that is from the individual. The individual goal is something focused on long term growth or pursuing an interest. They earn the right to have a longer term goal by performing their job well and proving they can balance daily work and taking on some other assignments.
- The Follower owns the plan: The individual leaves the meeting committed to pursuing the projects, classes, conversations, or whatever else needs to happen as part of the plan. It is truly their development plan, and understand that they need to update their leader and initiate conversations around help they might need along the way.
- The leader owns the support: Support includes quarterly “How is it going?/What can I do questions?” If there is money for travel/time away from work they commit to providing it. If one of the development items is involvement in a project in another area or partnering with another leader to solve a problem, support might be just keeping their ears open for opportunities. They also must be responsive if asked for help.
Finally, What can HR do to support this? If the three things happen above, then HR should not find itself in the role of oversight. I would say in the first year a good check-in would be to meet with leaders to review the plans and have the “What worked?/What could we do differently? discussion.
In my experience, the most difficult part of this whole process is writing the goals. I would hate for the leader to get frustrated and say ‘good enough’ and the follower to feel kind of adrift. One way I have seen myself bring value to this conversation is to help people imagine different ways to address development needs that fit within the constraints of the situation (time, budget, etc). Remember that 90% of learning happens outside of a class, so often formal education is the easy and least effective way to address a need.
I think HR could provide lots of value by telling the leaders to get close in their conversation, then feel free to send people to us to help refine the plan prior to having the leader do a final sign-off. For some leaders, you might even find yourself spending a little time with them before the performance conversation helping them identify some recommended areas to focus on. Again, this fits into the partner role HR should be playing without putting us in an oversight/ownership role.
I know there are some HR professionals reading this, so I welcome any other comments.
I asked the roomful of HR Leaders this question: Why do over 50% of your CEO’s have lists of key people/key positions, and yet <20% are doing anything to follow-up on those lists?
The room was very silent, then one lone voice offered an answer: Talking with them would mean we are making some guarantees – and nobody wants to break a promise. This is one of those things that make me go hmmmm . . . statements. I wonder what a high performer in an organization thinks of the silence?
Here are the results after I asked HR leaders to fill out the Talent Scorecard as if their CEO was doing the survey. The only two measures are 100% and <100%, because those are they only two measures that matter. 100% means you are doing the right things. <100% means that there is a person out there with a name, friends, bills to pay, skills/talents, and goals . . . that is not getting their needs met. These are basic needs. Here are the numbers.
Key Habits for Managing Most Valuable People and Roles
|1. I have a list of key people whom we cannot afford to lose AND:
- I have checked in with them within the last month to see how they’re doing.
- I have written development plans for them.
|2. I have a list of the key roles in my company AND:
- I have a performance/potential chart for people currently in each role.
- I have list of candidates in case of openings in these roles.
|3. I have a list of high potentials for promotion and we have spoken with each person on the list within the last six months about his/her future.
Development programs are not a promise, they are a map. A map that provides an individual with key places they need to visit/experience over the next 12 months in their career journey. It gives an individual ownership of their development and puts the leader in the position of support. So what is the ROI of this conversation? The cost is about 2-4 hours of work on the part of the leader. Their might be some training costs, but they should be minimal given that 90% of learning happens outside a classroom. An effective development plan leverages real experiences and great mentors. What is the benefit of someone being 5% more excited about their work?
For a quick look at a performance conversation tool/development plan that works see trUTips #13