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Common Mistakes In Succession Planning, and How Can They Be Avoided?

It is observed that Career and Succession planning is still an ad-hoc and gut-driven process in many organizations (especially in mid-size and smaller organizations and surprisingly also in some large organizations). Since there is hardly any scientific process or foundation used in career and/or succession planning, I have observed that business leaders inadvertently commit some common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Assuming that Success at the current level will bring success at the next levels. According to Cerveausys, the leading marketing consultant in Pune, an individual’s success at one level is no guarantee of success at higher levels of responsibility. The reason is simple: the competencies required for success at each level are different. Hence, it is important to separate thinking about how well someone does his or her current job and how well he or she might do a job at a higher responsibility level.

Mistake #2: Assuming that Immediate Managers Are Always the Best Judges of Who Is Promotable. A second mistake is to assume that, for purposes of succession planning, bosses are always the best judges of who is promotable. Though bosses/immediate managers can be better judges of employee competence that is not always true. In a dynamic race of survival sometimes shortsighted and power-centric bosses do not want to see their best people promoted for fear of an inability to replace them or worst they see them as a threat to their own power. Some well-meaning bosses grade people by their own standards—with the result that some individuals who are quite unlike the boss are not considered for promotion. While the opinion of the boss is useful in developing individuals, more objective assessments, such as multi-rater assessment, psychometric tests are excellent to corroborate boss’s assessment.

Mistake #3: Assuming that Promotions Are Rewards. Some employees (especially expert old timers) may have an entitlement mentality in which they feel that long service with an organization must always be rewarded with promotions. However, business decisions need to be based on who will do the best job, not who is “owed” a promotion due to seniority. There is a necessity to educate employees and remind them of the fact that doing jobs at each level requires different competencies. It is necessary to explain that the best way for them to compete is to learn skills required to deliver on next level jobs rather than expecting promotions for past performance with the same level of responsibility.

Mistake #4: Trying to Promote People Too Fast. The strong results-orientation of many organizations today emphasizes quick results. Senior leaders expect to see all the components of a comprehensive succession system in place immediately and employees start moving up on ladder urgently. That is not always realistic. It is advisable to think of implementing systematic succession in a phased way—either from the top down or else starting in specific divisions or locations with the greatest need. The best approach is to have at least a 12 to 24 months systematic progression plan before we promote people to next positions based on employee readiness and criticality of the role.

Mistake #5: Lack of systematic Leadership and Succession Planning Progam- A fifth mistake is to devote no time to work out the leadership model and succession program to identify and groom future leaders. Most of the high potentials are selected based on perceptions about their leadership skills. They are then sent to several leadership development or functional skills development workshops without an idea as to for what positions we would like them to be groomed. Lack of systematic base for learning development also impacts the motivation of high potential employees who are attending disconnected programs without visibility of planned progression.

Mistake #6: Assuming that Everyone Wants a Promotion. A sixth mistake is to assume that everyone wants a promotion. That is not always true today. In many downsized organizations, employees have seen what pressures their bosses have to deal with. Some say “leave me out of that.” Hence, it is unwise to assume that everyone wants a promotion—or even to assume that money will convince everyone. It will not. It is critical to check first as to what each high potential employee aspires to do. For that reason, many organizations launch both a top-down succession planning program and a bottom-up career-planning program to galvanize development efforts both among managers and among individuals.

Mistake#7:  Assuming that excellence in technical and functional skills makes one a good leader

In most cases, when bosses find someone exceptionally good at his/her technical or functional domain, an immediate thought is he/she will be the best leader for their group. It will be surprised that there are people who have great pride in their technical/functional proficiency and they love what they do. By promoting these people to general management levels organizations not only deprive them of the work they love but also set them for failure in a leadership role. Creating special positions, lateral and vertical technical career paths with higher salaries, attractive designations with responsibilities of special technical problem-solving at a national or global level can be an effective option.

 Mistake # 8:  Dumping the Succession Planning responsibility to HR Desk.

Though HR is a custodian of people management philosophy, human resource strategy, and processes, they may or may not have sufficient exposure to business priorities, challenges people working across various levels, technical or functional domain knowledge to review performance and present competency levels. Hence, the responsibility of the succession planning process needs to be seamlessly shared amongst all the 4 important stakeholders of this process- CEO, Head of Departments, human resources services and Employees in the talent pool. A systematic succession planning and leadership development program help in defining the process and non-overlapping roles and responsibilities of these 4 stakeholders to career/succession planning.

Mistake# 9: Expecting the future leaders of the organization to emerge automatically

It is true, that some employees show their spark, come out with a flash of imagination, innovation, courage and get noticed due to their contributions in a challenging situation. However unless and until they are guided for consistency in performance, value aligned behaviors, developing aspirations and drive towards professional learning, they may not be future ready leaders. There are many organizations in which talented employees sparked like bright stars in a dark situation and then faded in due course because they were not groomed for future success.

Mistake# 10: Assuming that you can always buy talent from job market with high pay and get results.

Across various organizations I have repeatedly observed leaders believing this myth; that best money can always buy the best talent. Best packages off course attract better talent however that can’t guarantee that the newly hired leader will be successful in your organization. There are several concerns such as whether the leaders will integrate in your culture, will they be accepted by peers/staff, will they stay loyal to organization at least mid-term, how would you keep other internal aspirants of such leadership position motivated when you recruit externally, will you be able to find such talent within short time etc. Hence having an internal successor to at least 70% of your key positions is a win-win strategy for both organizations as well as employees.

We are CerveauSys Strategic! A result oriented business management consultant & leadership development consultant from Pune and Mumbai. We have helped many organizations from diverse industry segments in creating leaders for tomorrow, making the best of business opportunities and creating profitable and happy workplaces. Do call us! We would love to be your trusted partner in your journey towards your vision.

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