hr policies, Human Resources Training, Training & Development

Succession planning: What is it, and how can HR help?

Succession planning is an extremely important aspect of an organization’s culture. Wise managements are aware of two important things: 1. No one is immortal; 2. a well-planned, well-execute succession plan takes the organization forward. An elaboration of the first point first: We all know that the only certainty of life is death. We also know that we have as much control over it as we had over our birth. We had no idea or say of where, when and to whom we would be born. The same goes for death. It can come about unannounced; it can come after years of waiting, or it can come about leaving the immediate ones some preparation, as was the case with Steve Jobs.

Why is succession planning important?

This is why succession planning is very important. Succession is all about phasing out an organization’s leadership to a new crop of leaders and managers. This is considered very important because when the business grows, it has to continuously adapt to changing situations. When old managers are at the helm; it may not be possible to implement their ideas in new environments. This is all the truer considering that times are changing very, very fast with the advent of technologies in every sphere of business.

Helps stay in the reality of the present

Whether it is a one-man, family or multinational business that one is running; the prospect that people at the top have to say goodbye either to the world or to the business is real. Many people who have built a business from ground up or managers who have done this for their organizations have to retire some day or another. In some cases, a few people may stay till a ripe old age, but generally, when the time for retirement comes, they have to pack their bags and leave.

A smooth succession plan will ensure that the business has continuity and that a new leadership that is more in sync with the present is heading it. The new leadership, which can be expected to be generally more vigorous in its outlook, is better placed to take the organization forward in the changed times. This progression is good for the organization and its business, because it ensures that it does not get stuck in old school thinking and action.

Tougher in some kinds of organizations than in others

In many proprietary, single-owner and family businesses; succession is normally a given. Even when the top brass decides on the succession; there are occasions when it is disputed. It is all the more so when huge organizations with many stakeholders need to decide on a succession plan. There could be more than one decision maker. So, this makes the job challenging. Yet, it is all the more important to have a smooth succession plan in place because of the size of the business.

It is generally important now

Having a good succession plan for organizations has become all the more urgent and important at this point of time than perhaps never before. This is because the baby boom generation has entered its retirement age. With this, we can expect heaps of managers and leaders to step out of organizations into the sunset of their careers. This is at a rather delicate time for the economy, because while it has just begun to feel robust all over again, there is a bunch that is leading it out of the mess is on its last legs.

How can HR help?

Throughout the succession process, HR can be a key player. It can be a very important consultative partner, right from the time the organization’s top management decides on a succession plan to the point when it is put in place.

HR is what may be called the organization’s connector. It is one of the very few departments that are in complete knowhow of the entire happenings in the organization. Being in a prime position gives it the opportunity to have complete knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. It is thus very well placed to be a good searcher of the person or persons to whom the baton needs to handed over.

It is a major player in helping to identify the talent that should take the company forward. It can coordinate with the managers of all the important departments and talk to them about who each manager thinks is well suited for taking over the organization’s reins. This is one of the most important contributions HR can make to succession planning. It is also something that only it can do, because it is uniquely placed to assess the strengths and capabilities of each individual in each department.

This is something that no manager, except someone sitting at the very top, can do. A manager is usually aware of the strengths of only his team member. He can at best give suggestions on who from only his team fits the bill, whereas HR is perched in the vantage point. It can have a proper and clear overall view of each department’s leadership material and suggest the most appropriate candidate to the top management.


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