Poor succession planning can have detrimental effects for an organisation such as reputational damage, profit loss and structural inefficiencies. A well known example is Blackberry – the former CEO of Blackberry, Thorsten Heins’ poor succession plan resulted in the termination of 4,500 employees and a net loss of nearly $1 billion. Thus it is incorrect that even multinational organisations are immune to poor succession planning.
Below are 5 common succession planning mistakes and ways in which to avoid them.
- Keeping the succession planning process a secret
Transparency into succession planning activities helps to build employees’ trust in the process and allows for everyone in an organisation to get on board. Keeping the process a secret suggests an organisation does not have a succession planning process in place. This could result in key employees leaving as they are uncertain of their own and the future of the organisation.
Having a transparent and clear process helps everyone to understand why certain individuals have been identified and others have not. This in turn will assist in dealing with potential disappointments. If people are aware of the future they are likely to be more motivated to improve in their performance. Thus an organisation needs to have some form of communication mechanism that spells out the process clearly and honestly.
- Choosing favourites
It is easy to fall into the trap of choosing your successor based on an individual whom you get along with, or who is the most popular. This however, may not be the best strategic approach for the organisation in the long-term. Your favourite employee may not have the critical skills required or may lack in high potential.
Two ways to avoid this mistake it to: a) have an objective assessment approach in place that is fair and defensible; and b) use ratings from many different sources to alleviate risks of bias.
- Making Succession a Competition
After being made aware of the succession planning process, those who are identified as potential successors for the same position may engage in competition. Succession planning is not a competition. Succession planning should be all about ensuring the right person is placed in the correct role and not about the egos of individuals.
Thus, the process needs to be managed very carefully. Always be honest and transparent with each individual under consideration. Reinforce the idea that it is not a competition between individuals but a process that results in one individual being considered for a specific role. Highlight that the eventual successor will be the individual selected who best meets the specific challenges and goals of the organisation and does not necessarily reflect ability or future potential.
- Fail to review, revise and update your succession plan.
One should never think that a succession plan will stand the test of time. The world is ever-changing and a succession plan needs to be adjusted to manage the changes. Succession plans need to remain current and constantly revised and updated. Make the revision of the succession plan an annual objective of the talent management process.
- Top performers don’t always make the best leaders
Placing someone as a successor based purely on their past performance, in a past role, is a big mistake. Just because someone is an excellent swimmer, it does not automatically mean they will be an excellent swimming coach. The skills required are very different. Thus always consider an individual’s potential and readiness and if need be look to other departments for talent. They may not be performing the exact same role, but may have the correct skillset required.
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