Aligning Succession Planning Programs with the Organization’s Strategy

#3 of 9 in our weekly succession planning blog post series:

Our guest blogger, Paul Riley is life-long learner of Organizational Leadership and Change who applies systems thinking and community development principles to help people work more effectively together within the complex human systems we create.

This week’s blog post focuses on the first principle of the 7 principles of successful Succession Planning: #1: Align Succession Planning programs with the organization’s strategy. People often think that succession planning is only a useful practice at large corporations or family-owned companies. However, succession planning should be a part of every company’s strategic plan. Who will take over when the current generation of leaders moves on? How will your organization continue as a going concern if you do not nurture and develop your human capital? These questions are relevant in virtually any business. Regardless of size, organizations that commit resources to creating a coherent plan excel at developing a sustainable leadership pipeline.

However, in many of the organizations that I’ve worked with, succession planning is only viewed as a contingency plan to address the worst-case scenario. Managers often think that they’re creating a plan in case a key employee is tragically hit by a bus. When succession planning is viewed as an administrative function that has no place at the strategic planning table, the process often becomes one in which a list of names is revisited annually. Instead of strategically thinking about how people can be prepared to fill key positions, middle and upper managers simply check to see that the people on the list are still employed with the organization, and perhaps eligible for promotion. 

Rather than having each department or division update a list of “high-potentials” on an annual basis, effective succession planning programs must be driven from the top of your organization and complemented by bottom-up career development. Succession planning is more likely to occur when senior management plays an active role in implementing and communicating the program and the process is viewed as an integral part of the organization’s strategy, rather than simply an administrative function.

The following three tips will help management implement, communicate, and integrate succession planning into your organization’s strategy:

1.    Develop processes and systems that support clear and constant communication about your organization’s vision, values, and mission in order to build a shared understanding of the strategic objectives.

2.    Establish organization-wide indicators of success that provide a clear sense of what needs to be done to achieve strategic objectives.

3.    Create succession processes and systems that support employee development, career progression, and well-being while achieving strategic objectives.

General Electric provides a compelling example of how integrating succession planning into the organization’s strategy will develop a strong leadership pipeline and produce outstanding business results over a long period of time. At GE, the HR team plays an integral role at the strategic planning table to ensure that HR initiatives, actions and priorities are aligned in terms of the business plan. As a result, GE has experienced effective transitions at the executive level, from Reg Jones to Jack Welch, and most recently to Jeff Immelt. And at the lower levels of the organization, GE continues to be a model of how to identify, assess, promote, and reward talent within the organization to achieve strategic objectives.

The key word of succession planning is “planning.” In other words, it should be done before a successfully performing employee announces plans to retire or resign, and especially before a position becomes vacant. To ensure that your organization has an adequate supply of people with the knowledge, skills, and experience to lead your organization into the future, succession planning must be integrated into the organization’s strategy.

Want to know more about the Seven Principles of Succession Planning? Stay tuned for Part 4 of this series, when I discuss the second principle – Combine Succession planning and Leadership Development.

Be sure to check out our other Succession Planning blog posts in this series:

What’s so important about Succession Planning? 

The 7 principles for successful Succession Planning