Promote Openness and Transparency

#7 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 fifth principle of the 7 principles of successful Succession Planning - #5: Promote Openness and Transparency. Many organizations view succession planning as a task for senior managers. As a result mid-level managers, supervisors and front-line staff don’t play an active role in the process. This can contribute to a perception among employees that there’s a lack of opportunity for advancement within the organization because they’re not involved in important conversations about the organization’s future and the roles they might play to support the company’s vision. Employees often become discouraged by the perceived lack of opportunity and become complacent, and some give up on their career aspirations altogether. This significantly impacts motivation, engagement and commitment to the organization. As a result the most talented employees typically decide to leave the company to pursue opportunities for growth and advancement elsewhere. By the time you get to the exit interview, it’s too late to persuade a “high-potential” employee to stay.

Senior managers often fear that employees will become discouraged if they’re not selected as a succession candidate. But the opposite is actually true. Employees who are passed over for a promotion typically become more engaged and motivated when they understand why they were not selected. Employees who are overlooked most likely want to be considered too, but they need to know what opportunities are available to them and understand what they need to do to get there. Creating open and transparent succession planning processes and systems will help employees figure out what they need to do to move to the next level.

I’ve also worked with senior managers who think that succession planning is not practical, because there simply aren’t any positions expecting to become vacant in the short- or mid- term. They often believe that employees will want to leave if they realize that there’s nowhere for them to go in the organization. But this logic is flawed for two reasons. First, you never know when somebody might unexpectedly leave, so you should always be planning for somebody in the organization to take over key positions or responsibilities should the need arise. Second, we’ve learned that when we focus on developing people, they become more committed to the organization. It’s scary for many managers to think that they’re preparing people to leave the organization, but that’s essentially what it takes to convince people to stay: show them that they are valued by giving them the tools and skills they need to advance in their careers, even if that means that they might take their knowledge and skills elsewhere. It’s counterintuitive, and it works.

Organizations that don’t communicate openly about their succession plans often find that employees aren’t motivated to develop themselves, because they don’t see “what’s in it for them,” preferring work-life-balance to the challenges they see their immediate supervisors dealing with every day. An open process promotes continual development of leadership potential in the rank and file. It also encourages staff to take ownership of their own professional growth, because they’re more aware of organizational expectations and what it takes to advance. Companies often benefit from “cascading development” as well, because employees share the knowledge and expertise that they acquire from development activities.

As I discussed in Part 3, succession planning programs must align with the organization’s strategy. It’s difficult to imagine a company that sets strategic objectives but neglects to communicate the strategic plan with its employees. Succession planning requires open and transparent communication to be effective. Organizations can promote openness and transparency by communicating about succession planning processes, defining clear career paths, and offering greater performance feedback. In other words, it must become integrated into performance management and talent management processes and systems.

Many organizations use web-based solutions to promote openness and transparency, because it allows employees to have greater access to information about opportunities within the organization while providing tools for knowledge management, employee development, and performance support. Web-based applications that include social media tools such as wikis, blogs, discussion boards, and chat rooms, can also help with managing projects more effectively by allowing employees to share their knowledge and expertise across the organization. Using cross-organizational project teams can help managers identify knowledge, skills, and talents that might otherwise be overlooked. But if web-based solutions are not within your organization’s budget, conversations with employees about their career goals and aspirations during the performance review cycle is a great place to start.

Want to know more about the Seven Principles of Succession Planning? Stay tuned for Part 8 of this series, when I discuss the sixth principle – Develop Simple, Flexible, and Decentralized Processes and Tools.

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

Include all levels of the organization

Provide opportunities for practice, feedback, and reflection