Include All Levels of the Organization

#5 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 third principle of the 7 principles of successful Succession Planning: #3: Include All Levels of the Organization. In order to develop a sustainable leadership pipeline, organizations must include all levels from executive management to the front-line in succession planning and leadership development.  When I ask senior leaders to identify key positions in their organizations, they generally focus on senior management and executive positions. However, in today’s knowledge economy, workers on the front line often know more than their managers, so it’s dangerous to assume that only managers, or those with formal authority, are important enough to consider in succession planning. So when we ask ourselves which positions in the organization are vital to sustaining operations, we should consider all levels.

Succession planning is often viewed as a task for senior managers and executives to complete during their annual strategic planning session. But when mid-level managers and supervisors are not actively engaged in the process, potential successors are sometimes overlooked. Even worse, key staff often leave due to the lack of opportunities, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them. This not only has a negative impact on institutional memory and collective corporate culture, but it can also result in a cycle of further turnover as higher demands are placed on those who remain, which often leads to increased stress and burnout.

Infusing leadership at all levels of the organization reduces the pressures of staff turnover by creating a work environment that’s encouraging, healthy, and helpful. As I suggested in an earlier blog post, What’s So Important about Succession Planning?, organizations need to shift away from traditional “management succession planning” and focus on development at all levels through “technical succession planning.” This will contribute to organizational sustainability by retaining tacit knowledge and institutional memory at all levels. And organizations that place more emphasis on transferring knowledge and developing people are more likely to retain talent, because employees feel engaged and motivated by opportunities to learn and grow.

William Rothwell, author of Effective Succession Planning, proposes the following “strategic road map” for technical succession planning that I’ve found useful:

  1. Secure and sustain management commitment (including measureable program goals, and clear roles and accountabilities for all key stakeholders)
  2. Clarify work processes and technical competencies essential to achieving the organization’s strategic goals
  3. Clarify who possesses that knowledge and what they do
  4. Identify who is at risk of loss due to retirement or how many new hires are needed due to growth
  5. Discover practical ways to distil and transfer invaluable knowledge
  6. Transfer the knowledge
  7. Evaluate program results (comparing results to measurable program goals)

It’s important to remember that management commitment is essential at all levels of the organization. Although executives can help get the process started, a mandate from the top will fall short when trying to keep the process going. Client demands and the day-to-day busy-ness take priority, and as a result succession planning often takes a back seat. For this reason, accountability needs to be built into the process, so that everyone knows that succession planning is a business imperative.For instance, Colgate has instituted a program that requires managers to retain 90% of high-performers or risk losing a part of their compensation.Another strategy is to set internal recruitment targets for key positions. As the saying goes, “that which gets measured gets done.”

Organizations that succeed at building a sustainable leadership pipeline create processes and systems for managing the talent pool across all levels, which means that everyone in the organization must be actively engaged in the succession planning process.

Want to know more about the Seven Principles of Succession Planning? Stay tuned for Part 6 of this series, when I discuss the fourth principle – Create Opportunities for Practice, Feedback, and Reflection.

Also, 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

Aligning Succession Planning programs with the organization’s strategy

Combine Succession Planning and Leadership Development