Succession Planning: Useful Exercise or an Exercise in Futility?

Image: Succession Planning: Useful Exercise or an Exercise in Futility?

Succession Planning & Developing Future Leaders

Organizations engage in succession planning in order to evaluate top talent, improve the organization’s strength in key positions, identify potential candidates early in their careers and create strategies to retain them, as well as using succession planning as a mechanism to reduce the cost of turnover.

Strong succession planning not only involves planning to fill the critical positions needed today, but also evaluates the types of positions that are needed in the future and who might be available to fill them. With a more rapid business cycle, organizations need to anticipate future needs in order to properly  build bench strength through skills development . Positions that are valuable to an organization today may not be as valuable in the future and positions that hold less importance in an organization today may become more important in the future.

Generational Perspectives on Succession Planning

Many current succession plans assume that an employee wants the career path that the organization is planning for them and that he/she wants to be promoted and move up into a leadership role.  However, this is not always the case, especially with Gen Xers and Gen Ys. Many Gen Ys believe that they will have three-to-five different careers in their lifetimes. These employees may not believe that they will still be with your organization in five or ten years.

Gen Ys are life-long learners who have been encouraged to follow their passions. It is not uncommon for a Gen Y to be in a career but already be thinking about and planning for their next career shift. This is especially true if the organization they are working for  doesn’t develop a career path that interests them.

When it comes to Gen X employees, many of them are not necessarily interested in “moving up” in an organization and becoming management just for the sake of title and authority. They are often happier in their current positions if they feel that they are doing interesting work and are continuing to learn and grow. Also, they may prefer not to move up if they feel that a more senior position will harm their work-life balance. Gen Xers place a high value on the ability focus time and energy on interests outside of work.

This is not to say that there aren’t Gen Xers and Gen Ys who want to stay with an organization for many years and build a strong career there. However, this is only true for as long as certain conditions are being met. Learning and development opportunities, chances to develop their professional skillsets and having a good work-life balance are very important to members of the younger generations. These generations think beyond  promotions and raises and aren’t typically motivated by the same drivers as previous generations.

It is therefore important that organizations recognize that not all employees will “wait their turn” for a promotion. This fact should be considered during the succession planning process.

Generational Expectations of The Succession Planning Process

In order to increase the likelihood that high-performing and high-potential employees will stay with your organization, it is important to know what younger generations expect from the succession planning process so that you can motivate and engage them in the right ways.

Gen Xers, and especially Gen Ys, expect to be involved in discussions regarding  where their careers are headed. They don’t want to be told where they will end up working, rather  they expect that they can direct the process for themselves by choosing career paths that align with their passions and interests.

They also want the succession planning process to be very transparent. The planning should not happen “behind closed doors.” Instead, younger employees expect to be told how “high potential” employees are selected by the organization and what behaviours they need to demonstrate to become one. The expectation is that they will be fully aware of where they ‘rank’ within the organization and that they will receive coaching on what they can do to improve or maintain their performance rating.

Finally, younger generations want to know that if they are given career options and they choose not to move in the direction that the organization has planned for them, that there will be no retribution or, at minimum, that the consequences are fully explained to them beforehand.

Building a successful succession plan requires taking a future focus, recognizing that long-term planning is increasingly difficult with a mobile workforce, and that the process must be transparent and engage younger employees for the start.

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