Succession planning – How to involve managers and employees?

During this conversation Rolf Peiffer (Managing Partner at Leadership Choices) and Sven Sommerlatte explore the benefits of making succession planning more transparent. The idea is to establish an open exchange between the current incumbent of a role and his/her identified successors. This might make our succession planning process more robust and more meaningful.

SVEN: Traditionally, succession planning is seen as a tool to ensure business continuity. This is the company perspective.

ROLF: That is right. But there are also other ways to look at the value of succession planning. We can take the perspective of the current incumbent of a role, or the perspective of the identified succession candidate. And finally, we can look at it from the perspective of HR as the orchestrator of this process.

SVEN: Let’s take the perspective of the current incumbent. The availability of a successor is obviously important because having a back-up is usually a condition for being allowed to move on to another role.

ROLF: That is right. No manager wants to hear “we can’t move you to your next role, because there is no successor available to step in”.

SVEN: Now the question is what role the manager can play to secure his or her succession. Can the manager play an active role in this process? In the past, succession planning was often a black box discussion between manager and HR.

ROLF: My sense is that this should be an open process. Managers should actually engage with the identified successor instead of letting this be a pure paper exercise. That would open up a number of opportunities. It would help managers and their team members have more mature conversations about career and personal development. Mentoring relationships could be established between the manager and the identified successors. Succession management could thereby become a real source of engagement.

SVEN: When you talk about engagement that leads to the employee perspective. For the succession candidate it could certainly be very beneficial to be able to exchange with the current incumbent to understand the role better, to understand what skills and experience are required and what development actions might be recommended to get ready for that role. That exchange would certainly be very engaging and would provide to the employee greater visibility about the career development opportunities that the company can offer.

ROLF: Yes, employees will see that “there is someone who looks after me and who is willing to help me shape my future in this organization”. That would be a very positive employee experience.

SVEN: The downside is that this may create certain expectations on the employee side. But if you think about it, there are ways to counterbalance this risk. Employee may have different succession options. Some options might be short term and others might be mid- or long term career development opportunities. This allows to put things into perspective instead of having a narrow focus only on one next step.

ROLF: You are right; the open approach might raise expectations that are finally not met and this can lead to disappointed. But my sense is that the benefits are greater than the downsides and that the risk can be mitigated as you said.

SVEN: The benefits from the HR perspective are that this (1) would help making the succession plans more robust and that (2) the development discussion between the manager and their team members would become more meaningful. As a facilitator of that process, the HR function would certainly benefit from that exchange a lot.

ROLF: Facilitating more mature conversations about future roles is indeed a great opportunity for the HR function to create value for the organization.

SVEN: To summarize, we talked about the involvement of managers and their active participation in the development of their successors, we talked about the engagement that this would mean for the employees and we agreed that this would make the succession planning process much more meaningful and richer from the HR perspective. So we could conclude that a transparent and more open succession approach would be very beneficial for all parties.

ROLF: Nothing to add. That is a good conclusion.

SVEN: Many thanks Rolf for that discussion!

ROLF: Thank you!

More information in my book:

Sven Sommerlatte : Successful Career Strategy – An HR Practitioner’s Guide to Reach Your Dream Job (Springer, June 2023).  ISBN: 978-3-662-66790-3

Click here to find my book


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