The People Side of Succession Planning
Effective succession planning is a continual management strategy--not just an episodic measure to replace the boss when he or she retires or gets hit by a truck. Its specific outcomes may range from transitioning ownership and other key occupations within your organization to ensuring that the company won’t be left in the lurch operationally or financially and can continue to serve its customers effectively if the unexpected occurs. In summary, succession planning’s general purpose is to ensure that you have the people and resources you’ll need to carry out your vision for the company into the future. So it must be an integral part of the overall planning process, tied to the company’s strategic plan and an assessment of the resources required to implement it. It must take into account the combined succession of everything that’s critical to your operation—including your equipment and service offerings, as well as the people who make success happen.
The process requires senior management to define and continually review the company’s strategic objectives--including the company’s targeted customer profile. Continual human-resources management is equally essential for developing and updating job descriptions, profile testing, training programs, and implementing a formal process of performance reviews. (We have detailed the importance of many of these HR functions in past articles in WhatTheyThink’s archives.) None of these are one-time activities. They need to be addressed with a frequency appropriate to the dynamics of your clients and your company.
Consider All-Important Customer Needs
For human-resources succession planning it is especially important to review the job functions required to meet customer needs; then define the professional profile of the people required to perform these duties in a cost-effective manner. Then review current employees against these criteria and assess any training programs they may require. Also identify current employees’ career goals to determine their prospects for future transitions, either internally by your choice or externally by the employee’s desire to move on or retire. Then develop a plan to mentor and train suitable employees for transition to another role. Additional hiring decisions should be made not just for a specific position, but in concert with your succession plans.
Customized Solutions Work Best
The eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung once said that “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” And human-resources succession planning is certainly an instance where no cookie-cutter solution will suffice. The succession plan that will work best for a particular company is as individual as the personalities involved.
The primary reason is that, far from being trivial considerations to be pushed aside, the personalities, feelings, and drives of the people involved are key forces—not just for effective succession planning but also effective management. Yet these forces can create considerable complexity both internally and externally. So just like your finances and legalities, they require expert handling to ensure optimum long-term results. Support is available from staffing specialists like PrintLink to help you navigate the complicated “people side” of succession.
Choosing A Successor
If you are successioning your business because of your own retirement, there are many possible alternatives to consider. If your children are presently part of the business, then either they want to assume ownership and business-management roles, or they don’t. Either they are ready and able to do so, or they aren’t. Other possible variations include the prospect that your children may want to assume ownership of the company, but they prefer hands-on positions in production or sales, rather than senior roles in management. Or you may have no children, or none who want to carry on the business. Then, frankly, it’s sometimes better to sell the company and give the kids or heirs the cash to let them pursue something else they’re good at.
Profile Testing Aids Objective Decisions
Profile testing is a critical component of a workable people succession plan. It gives you an effective arm’s-length way to sort through your emotions objectively and figure out if your proposed succession plan is on track. Industry adopted the practice of profile testing from psychometry, a branch of psychology that devises quantitative tests to measure psychological variables. It helps you find out if the person you’re grooming for succession or transition is actually suitable for the new position, as well as uncovering aptitudes that can be strengthened by training.
Whether you’re dealing with succession planning or more general HR management, data obtained from profile testing can be used to redefine your employees’ job descriptions to capitalize on their strengths. It’s also useful to benchmark people who are already working in your company and hire new staff with aptitudes and personalities to complement and counterbalance them. The financial outlay for a qualified person to administer the test and interpret the results is more than recovered in the protection it provides for your business’s future and your investment of time and money in hiring and training staff. After all, if you train someone who is not an appropriate successor, you’re not doing anyone—least of all your company--any
5 Success Tactics
Additionally, in every succession-planning scenario, five important people-handling strategies apply:
- Working their way through your company from the ground up is not always necessary to build future leaders. Besides getting an appropriate education, it may be best if they gain work experience and new perspectives with other companies in the printing industry—or even settings outside the industry—in order to develop their abilities to succeed in different circumstances.
- Leadership candidates should be given experience in different parts of your company in order to understand how it operates as a whole. A further reason to move candidates around is to give them the opportunity to build trusting relationships with key staff, suppliers, and customers.
- Avoid the “boss’s kid” syndrome. If you’re handing over your business to your children, they need the same skills you would seek if you went looking for an outsider to take over your company. Your children should enter the business at a level of authority and responsibility appropriate for their background, and their salary and advancement should be based on the same criteria that apply to any other employee. Such a methodology instills appropriate respect on all sides for qualifications and experience, and makes it clear to everyone (including your offspring) that they have earned their place in the company.
- In all cases, open communication is essential. Otherwise rumors abound, and the people you have identified as successors may leave for reasons of uncertainty.
- Capitalizing on an age-blended workforce is critical to a smooth succession initiative (and the subject of another of our past WTT articles.) A significant number of organizations are expected to cope with the reduced future workforce by offering phased retirement and “retires on call” programs, in which older employees work fewer hours before and after retirement. Such programs allow older workers to continue contributing their invaluable knowledge and experience to the business.
We suggest the value of these programs can be maximized by assigning some training and mentoring activities to retirees. In cases where your chosen successors are not yet ready to assume senior roles, the solution may be identifying someone already on board your staff in a senior capacity to groom a selected candidate for the future, or else hiring someone from outside for that express purpose. (But in these cases, you need to make sure everyone is well aware of the plan – the mentor, your family, and the other people within the company.)
No matter what your scenario, your task is always that of hiring the best to achieve present and future objectives. We emphasize again that it is the unique aspects of each person and situation—and not a one-size-fits-all solution—that will determine the best possible succession strategy. Because of the dynamics of today’s business climate and workforce, we are finding that hiring managers are factoring in succession considerations more and more often in making their hiring decisions.