Tag Archives: succession planning

The one without the silver bullet

You know those breakfast briefings you get invited to? They usually start at o’my god o’clock and are somewhere in London? This is about one of those. The thing that distinguished this session from most was it opened with one of the speakers saying “what we’re going to tell is not a golden bullet if that’s what you were hoping for”. My interest was piqued

This particular session was hosted by Wickland Westcott with their client the Co-operative Group. For those of you that aren’t aware of WW (which may be many as they are one of the best kept secrets in HR consulting) they are a small/boutique firm with offices in Macclesfield & London. I must confess now that I’ve done a fair amount of work with WW and rate them highly so may not be at my most objective in what follows.

The session was co-presented by the consultant who’d led the work, Keith McCambridge and the HRD for Talent from The Co-operative, Jackie Lanham. That was the first difference – it wasn’t a consultancy saying ‘this is how we saved our client’ and it wasn’t a practitioner saying ‘this is what we did….oh and they helped’. It was Keith who said the golden bullet line (I think he meant silver bullet) and what followed was not a review of process and procedure but rather a narrative of the shared experience of delivering a succession plan to the Co-operative.

Some of the key points shared in the session were:

Fear is a great motivator

Rather than using an argument based on the logic of “we really really should have a succession plan you know”, the motivator behind getting the work done was – look at M&S and Vodafone, they didn’t have robust succession and look at how much trouble it caused them. Not sexy, not sweet but effective!

Focus on the people who want it

The succession process at the Co-operative wasn’t an obligatory/everyone must fit in a box process but rather focussed on the people who demonstrated desire to want to advance. This sparked an interesting debate about the fact that driven people are not always competent to move forward and the competent people sometimes don’t want to move forward.

Don’t hide from the Well Poisoners

A well poisoner is a term I first heard attributed to Walt Disney and describes those people who are not only negative towards your change/initiative but actively work against your change. In this case these people were involved early on and some were included in the steering group for the project.

Process is a turn off – hide it!

As with a lot of projects of this nature, there is a lot of process involved in making it actually land. However, for the participants and the leadership this is not the element that will engage or excite them – hide as much as you can.

Context is key

The Co-operative is a high growth acquisitive organisation that means new and challenging roles will be created and drive the need for succession. This context means the appetite you create by engaging in succession planning can be satisfied by the organisation but being aware of the context in your organisation is important before embarking.

I really enjoyed the session (and the breakfast) and it was good to hear of an organisation focussing on and more importantly embracing succession planning not just as a paper exercise but as something that becomes part of the strategic development of the organisation. Jackie did share the fact that 2 executive appointments had been made internally that previously would have required external search – more than paying for the process – clear ROI, nice!

I await my next briefing….but in the meantime, Keith – cash no cheques and Jackie if I could direct you here

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The one with a battle not a war

For at least the past decade discussion has abounded about the war for talent. When I first interviewed for an HR job a friend who is a Senior HR practitioner told me to avoid using the phrase as it would sound like meaningless jargon. I followed her advice then (and got the job) but continue to see the phrase in print (online and offline) and featuring on many conference programmes.

It appears with my limited perspective that the biggest focus in the war for talent, or least in the discussions I see is the acquisition of talent (recruitment in normal language). Whilst ensuring an organisation hires great people is absolutely key in ensuring the health and effectiveness of the organisation – it is only a battle, it is NOT the war.

The other major battle is termed by some talent development (Learning & Development in my language but to my Dad I work in training) and I promise this post isn’t another one all about L&D. But it is about Talent, and what seems to now be termed talent mapping/planning (succession planning in old skool language)

In the past few weeks I have been talking to people in several different contexts about my views on talent. When the subject of succession planning rears its head, as it inevitably does, it amazes me how much focus is given firstly to the operation of the exercise (the project management elements) and secondly the administration of the process (the tools or system used). What appears to be given little attention is the actual content of said plan…

What largely seems to happen is that line managers are asked to assess their teams and fill in some form of document or chart with an indication of what roles that individual will do in a specified amount of time. Now I accept there are some organisations that do this very well but it appears most do something rudimentary.

So let’s have a look at the pitfalls associated with a basic or rudimentary process:

  • It’s largely based on the subjective opinion of the line management
  • The investment in objective measurement of either performance or potential is often limited
  • It is often married to a evolving or flawed performance management system
  • The balance between current performance and individual potential often skews to assessment being made on performance
  • It often doesn’t consider options wider than the current function an individual is working in
  • It is often subjugated to ‘business as usual’ and becomes a compliance exercise rather than attention being paid to individual and organisational potential

This list could go on and on and as previously stated isn’t a view on the best practice that exists in some organisations but my perception on what happens in some organisations that maybe haven’t seen (or been influenced to) the value of investing in their succession plan.

Views abound on many parts of this subject and an interesting view from the other side of the fence can be found in this post  from Katie McNab.

People don’t appear on a balance sheet. If they did you would have to depreciate them, give information on their expected life span and what investments are being made to ensure that life is achieved or exceeded. Whilst a machine in a factory receives planned and preventative maintenance and effort is put into the next generation of upgrades, additions, capacity extensions and ensuring that machine runs as efficiently as possible. Due to the lack of objective (and for that read financial) measures around people it appears they don’t receive the level of attention they would benefit from.

So why did I write this? Firstly because the thought has been bouncing around my head but probably more to ask that the next time you hear/use the phrase the war for talent you think about all the battles on all the fronts and how important your existing employees are to the future success of your business.

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