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Best practices for succession planning

World Cement,

Within its explanation of succession planning, (the Society for Human Resources Management), states: “Succession planning is a key component for business success, enabling an organization to recover when critical talent is lost. An effective succession plan includes a focus on development, preparing individuals for future opportunities. Systematic tracking is also critical.”

While the above emphasises the development of internal employees, we can add that succession planning begins with the recruitment process. Before the first candidate is interviewed, before the job description is even posted online, best practice for succession planning actually begins by reviewing an organisation’s goals and 5-year strategic business plan. Bringing in the right candidates provides bench strength for the types of talent that will be needed by a business to ensure its continued success.

This article will outline some of the key steps for designing a succession plan. Such a plan could even reduce the need for assistance from recruitment specialists. As a cement industry recruiter, this may seem counterproductive, but we can of course help with the plan’s implementation. 

Best practice suggests that an organisation, specifically the plant level management team, corporate HR and operations, come together to agree on the following strategy to make sure that all specific requirements are met.

  1. Review the organisation’s goals, business plan, value and mission statements. This will create an outline that will paint a picture of the type of work environment, culture and personality that will provide the best fit for the organisation.
  2. Identify market trends and the types of jobs that are proving the most difficult to fill, for example, Control Room Operators, Automation Engineers, Electrical Engineering Managers, etc.
  3. Identify skills gaps and current vacancies and list these in a simple spreadsheet. Review the length of time from job requisition to date of hire by position. Some positions will take longer to fill than others.
  4. Create, review and/or update a list of core competencies that each top talent needs to possess. Best practice is to have 4 – 7 core competencies for the organisation. These are usually soft skill related and can be found from the analysis conducted in step 1, above.
  5. Identify in-house top talent. Assess employees against the established core competencies. This is usually carried out during the performance management review process. However, in my experience, this task is often seen as a mere checkbox exercise and not taken as seriously as it should be. To become the organisation of choice, things will have to be done a little differently than they have been before, and firms that are already the organisation of choice must raise the bar continuously to ensure that they remain competitive. There are several software programs that can help with this, and customised processes can be created. Whatever process is selected, allow enough time for it to take hold and then review, repeat or update before scratching the entire process. Above all, choose wisely, be picky and be aware of the organisation’s goals.
  6. Once in-house talent has been identified, create the succession plan. Most of the time individuals who have been identified never know that they are on this list – because of legal issues should you never promote them, it is advisable never to make it publicly known. Keep track of how each individual measures up to the core competencies (software makes this much easier), along with lateral moves, projects, committees and specific projects designed to stretch or grow a particular key skill. This information is invaluable when it comes to annual reviews to determine who is ready for promotion, who could benefit from further training, as well as indicating the types of training needed, e.g., formal courses, certifications, soft skill building and technology courses. Other ideas include:
    • Mentoring programme.
    • Coaching – internal or external.
    • Action learning or formal education.
    • 360-degree feedback sessions.
    • Job rotation.
    • Individual development plans (including benchmarks).

One of the major issues with succession planning is that it is not always completely understood. Succession planning can be the most important strategic marketing tool that a company can implement. Firstly, thoroughly engaged employees will want their talented friends and colleagues to apply for open positions. Secondly, employees want development but they may not know how to manage their own careers. Some companies have actually abandoned the task of career development and many employees have never been taught how to review employment trends or how to stay current and relevant. At the same time, employers are looking for candidates that are current, relevant and forward thinking. All of this demonstrates how a development strategy including succession planning can serve as a strong employer brand-marketing tool. So why not revisit your succession planning strategy, dust it off and implement a new and improved version.

Succession planning – key points:

  • It is a continuous process – there is no end and no beginning.
  • Keep it simple and ensure that it is easy to implement – it does not have to be cumbersome or time consuming.
  • Utilise technology – automate as much as possible.
  • Achieve top management endorsement.

Written by Robin Harpe, Cemcon International, Inc., USA.

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