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The Art of Succession Planning and Bench Strength

The Art of Succession Planning and Bench Strength
Ask a CEO if they have good succession planning and bench strength, and many would unfortunately roll their eyes and think themselves lucky if they have all key positions filled, and even luckier if each of their key people were competent and performing well.  We find that most companies have excellent intentions for succession and bench strength, but do not have a solid plan in place for key roles.  Almost every position profile we write with our clients has an objective written in for the new hire to build a succession plan and build bench strength.
Why is it so hard?  For one thing, most CEOs do not always think organizationally.  They think in terms of revenue, customers, financial performance, operational metrics, etc.  People, skills, development, etc. are sometimes a “nice to have” rather than a must for today’s busy leaders.  Also, CEOs are often dealing with now – putting out fires, handling urgent matters, and have to put off strategic long-term thinking.  In hiring, many companies look at only what is needed to do a job today, not where it will lead for the person hired.
When hiring and promoting, companies need to think long-term.  What will we need organizationally in a year, or in 3-5 years?  Will this person grow with our needs for talent?  How will we mentor, coach and develop a high potential person?
Another issue is decisiveness.  Business leaders who are usually decisive in all matters, can be too indecisive when it comes to people.  Poor performers are often tolerated for far too long.  Good performers are appreciated, but not necessarily advanced.  A good performer needs to be stretched – given goals beyond current expectations – to develop their potential for advancement.  If not, they will seek greater challenges elsewhere.  Poor performers need to be given clear improvement goals, and redeployed or exited if they cannot meet them.  If not, they hold the organization back.
To build a good succession plan and build bench strength requires a project management approach.  Performance objective oriented job profiles that clearly state what a successful position looks like, will help companies decide who can do that job, much more effectively than a job profile that relies on typical minimum years, skills, etc.  In screening people for advancement or new hires, companies must look at how that person will move through the organization.  What else could the person do?  What would I have to teach them or let them do for them to be able to move up, or expand by moving laterally?
Companies should also build a skills matrix and match it up with current and projected talent.  What do we need done?  Who is doing it?  How well?  Who else could do it?  Where are our current and future gaps?
By treating succession planning and bench building like any other critical strategic goal, business leaders will get this accomplished, and have the talent they need now and in the future.