Monday, November 24, 2008

Planning for Success!

Succession planning assumes a strategic role as recession hits talent supply...

Tough economic times are not about financial meltdown alone. There is also the collateral damage that comes with it. Economic downturn brings different challenges for different functions. For the human resources function, the challenge lies in the ability of the organisation to maintain a healthy and competent bench strength without digging into the corporate wallet. HR leaders have to try and prevent holes from forming in the talent bench.

Succession planning gains a whole new meaning in recessionary times. Experts say that organisations need to have a robust succession planning strategy so that they are prepared adequately to combat recessionary blues. Succession planning should ideally begin in the hay days when the economy is booming and things are looking good. It is in such times that HR leaders, along with functional heads, can pursue their succession ideas since both the risks and gains are limited. What's more, recruitment managers have the luxury of 'buying' talent when the going is good, while in a downturn it is more about 'growing' talent. A strong succession pipeline makes all the difference here.

Toning talent muscle

Why should organisations focus on succession planning in a downturn? The reasons are many. The most evident and convincing of them is that in a downturn organisations have little to spare and turning inwards for help will be the only option. This, however, would help only if succession planning was tended to as a critical strategic function in good times.

Financial crisis always pushes employees to do a bit more than what they could. Hence, having a competent bench strength can help organisations produce more without pulling purse strings. Despite awareness about the importance of succession planning and its role in a downturn most organisations have a weak succession plan. Organisations pay little attention to their succession strategy and only prepare a vacancy chart to show how one moves up the ladder. Such apathy towards the critical function can spell disaster for organisations in times of recession. .

Organisations, therefore, should analyse closely the need, purpose, objective, process and the desired output encompassing a succession planning programme. The best way to begin working on a function like succession planning is to work backwards from the outcome to the purpose. This is because only when HR leaders are clear about what they expect from their succession planning will they be able to chart out a plan to achieve it. Without a clear understanding about the outcome leaders may fail to do the right things and therefore may not produce the desired results.

A clearly defined purpose will help leaders define parameters to measure their success and will also help in letting others know about the validity and reliability of the exercise.

Defining points

The success of a succession planning programme can be measured by using a scale that assesses the programme on a number of parameters ranging from usage and design to output. To begin the succession planning drive, it is important that the programme has maximum reach and easy accessibility. For this, the succession plan has to be written down and distributed among the people covered by the programme, and also those sitting on the decision making bench. In addition, the plan must have the following attributes:

The succession plan should be more of a 'progression plan', where the emphasis is on an individual's growth and career progression, and not promotion
  • Every succession plan should have an individualised career graph that would help employees keep a track of their progress
  • Leaders and managers should be open about people who are included in the plan. Clarifying about individual status will help employees get a better perspective to the entire exercise
  • The plan should include appropriate rewards for managers following the plan. Managers who help their subordinates make smooth transitions that are in line with the chalked out plan should be rewarded suitably
  • Succession planning should be articulate and must ensure that the right job moves are made

Succession planning should not lead to crisis. It should be integral to corporate management and save organisations caught in a downward spiral. However, this is possible only if organisations invest adequately in succession planning and build a robust talent pipeline that can be relied upon in times of need.


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