One of the biggest challenges with Succession Planning is managing expectations and raised hopes (that even being considered or included in the exercise MUST mean that an employee is on the radar for promotion or a move to something better of some kind) – not to mention keeping it quiet generally and managing the rumor mill.
IF you plan to use a 9-box, the descriptor language of each box must be safe but clear and seen only as a ‘first indicator’ and I would recommend that it be used only as one small graphic tool and never shared publicly.
Sometimes companies prefer not to tell a hi-potential candidate they are on ‘the list’, or ‘on the 9-box grid’ because one manager considers them ‘high’ and another considers them ‘not so high or low’.
Some companies want to manage expectations and do not want to get people’s hopes up, or worse, breed a sense of entitlement or unhealthy gossip or competition.
On the flip-side, to not tell them they are at least ‘being considered’ can erode trust and, if they are not, e.g. being challenged enough in their job, could become ‘flight risk’ with negative impact.
A fairly high percentage of ‘hi-potential’ employees have indicated they would definitely like to know they are on a fast track or accelerated career path. But it’s the reasons why you are even ‘making a list’ and how this is communicated that is critical.
It is critical, before any type of hi-potential or succession planning initiative begins, that the company is very clear about the motivation and reasons for even beginning…e.g. growth, need for global mobilization, M&A, potential new project or projects ending soon and need to demob-remob of select groups. It is important that everyone from Grade Z-Grade A (highest level) be included in the exercise if logistically or practically possible.
And I would strongly suggest that if your performance management and appraisal system is bad, distrusted, deemed irrelevant or biased…and more importantly if your bonus and promotion process is flawed, that you fix it first before having any ‘secret’ or even public but vague hi-potential ID program. Do not leave yourselves open to the skeptical charge, ‘We’ve tried something like this before and it failed.’
Upfront setting of the criteria and REASONS WHY for even beginning a Succession Planning initiative is critically important. You may even want to consider individuals doing their own ‘blind’ self-assessment (i.e. not seen by anyone else until a face-to-face meeting with the higher up who also did their evaluation) – and then they meet and compare notes.
Something like this could be shared as the rationale or primary reasons for launching a Succession Planning initiative…
We are experiencing considerable growth and our projections are…….or we are anticipating an acquisition…..or expecting a large project or contract soon….or (more negative but pitched optimistically) we are restructuring ‘as you know’ and this will inevitably mean a ‘repositioning of key personnel’….etc.. etc. In order to ensure maximum efficiencies, and to be positioned better in the marketplace, and to be ready to respond to the new challenges, etc….we are therefore going to be doing ‘success-critical impact evaluations’ of ALL personnel from Grade/Level X right up to the CEO. This is about being ready for the future. It is not about guaranteeing anyone any new, higher or whatever position…it’s a ‘taking stock’ exercise to ensure we have the best people in the right jobs ready to do the right things…and if we don’t have the right people, it will help us know how to recruit and train more effectively. But the exercise should be seen as an investment in our future by identifying and investing in our best people – those with the track record, the potential and the motivation to contribute and succeed.
- It is important that the initiative NOT be seen as exclusive but rather as inclusive as possible. (Note: You may need, for logistical purposes, to state that the exercise will apply only to those who have been with the company more than X years – but even this can be misconstrued if not managed well. To be upfront is the key and allow, perhaps, a process for an ‘appeal to be considered’.
- The evaluation criteria must be clearly stated and open for all to see…the ‘level playing field’ image.Note: STRESS that everyone and their boss and their boss’ boss will go through exactly the same process.
- The criteria should be as data-centered as possible and easily understood – not complex HR or Talent Management data-jargon with lots of graphs.
- The process and phases should be clearly outlined – e.g
- key position assessment (current vs. projected)
- key positional skills assessment (current and projected)
- key person competency assessment (gap assessment – Note:The challenge with this component is that if you don’t have a competency framework in place that is used to identify gaps for recruitment and training purposes, it could take a while to produce an assessment process that is fair and effective)
- performance evaluation historical data comparison (but only if the PMS is viewed already as fair and effective)
- individual discussions/’interviews’ about desire, motivation, interest
- State clearly that by being considered does not guarantee anything…it is about being ready when the right opportunity arises.
- State clearly that some people will be ready and willing to make a change or move, and some won’t – and that’s ok…it doesn’t change the company’s commitment to train and develop all people. It is not about being ‘in’ or ‘out’, or about ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, but about the fact that some people are moving, growing and contributing in the ‘right direction’ more than and faster than others….but as long as you’re moving in the right direction you will be considered for any and all suitable opportunities…etc.
- How the results will be communicated – but certainly not in a public format or on the cafeteria message board. Personal meetings are the best but everyone should know this.