Succession Planning

Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing suitable employees through mentoring, training and job rotation to replace employees who are aging out. A company must assess their current situation to plan the workforce of the future, including developing a plan to address succession of current workers as they leave the workforce due to retirement, attrition and other factors. This typically is another form of risk assessment that we are so familiar with in other areas such as ergonomics, safety, medical, disaster planning, etc.

Succession planning establishes a process that recruits employees, develops their skills and abilities and prepares them for advancement, all while retaining them to ensure a return on the organization's training investment. Succession planning involves:

  • Understanding the organization's long-term goals and objectives
  • Identifying the workforce's developmental needs
  • Determining workforce trends and predictions

In the past, succession planning typically targeted only key leadership positions. In today's organizations, it is important to include key positions in a variety of job categories.

With good succession planning, employees are ready for new leadership roles as the need arises. When someone leaves, a current employee is ready to step up to the plate. In addition, succession planning can help develop a diverse workforce by enabling decision makers to look at the future make-up of the organization as a whole.

Succession planning and workforce planning are one in the same and they are systematic processes for identifying and addressing the gaps between the workforces of today and the human capital needs of tomorrow. Effective workforce planning enables any organization to:

  • Align workforce requirements directly to the company’s strategic and annual business plans.
  • Develop a comprehensive picture of where gaps exist between competencies the workforce currently possesses and future competency requirements.
  • Identify and implement gap reduction strategies.
  • Make decisions about how best to structure the organization and deploy the workforce.
  • Identify and overcome internal and external barriers to accomplishing strategic workforce goals.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) developed a five-step workforce planning model. This model can serve as a useful starting point for understanding the elements involved in workforce planning.

Step One: Set Strategic Direction

This step involves linking the workforce planning process with the organization’s strategic plan (e.g.,5 year), annual performance/business plan and work activities required to carry out the goals and objectives of the strategic plan (long term) and performance plan (short term).

To capitalize on this first step, by identifying the long-term vision and direction and analyzing future requirements for products and services, the plan can be created using data already collected. This connects the succession plan with the values of the organization as well as to the needs of the employees.

Step Two: Analyze Workforce, Identify Skill Gaps and Conduct Workforce Analysis

This step involves determining what the current workforce resources are and how they will evolve over time through turnover, etc. It also requires developing specifications for the kinds, numbers and location of workers and managers needed to accomplish the agency’s strategic requirements, and determining what gaps exist between the current and projected workforce needs.

To further develop the second step, core competencies and technical competency requirements are recognized and incorporated into a “needs” part of the planning. This gives employers the ability to identify current employment trends with the organization’s demands for employees over a period of time. This step also develops the need for a business plan based on long-term talent not on position replacement. In this manner, it is much more cost effective and on target.

Step Three: Develop an Action Plan

This step involves the identification of strategies to close gaps, plans to implement the strategies and measures for assessing strategic progress. These strategies could include such things as recruiting, training/retraining, restructuring organizations, contracting out, succession planning and technological enhancements.

Implementing this third step allows a company to develop the internal understanding of its pool of candidates versus the development of positions. The identification of employees with multiple talents and critical competencies from other working levels can begin cross functional training. Younger employees can be developed earlier in their careers and employees who will be leaving can be selected as mentors.

This also can be the time that human resources can be made aware of the necessity for the recruitment of external resources to fulfill openings that cannot be satisfied internally.

Step Four: Implement Action Plan

This step involves ensuring human and fiscal resources are in place, roles are understood and the necessary communication, marketing and coordination are occurring to execute the plan and achieve the strategic objectives.

Step four involves identifying the recruitment strategies and putting in place special budgetary needs such as:

  • Recruitment and relocation bonuses
  • Identifying retention strategies
  • Retention bonuses
  • Quality of work life programs
  • Identifying development/learning strategies
  • Planned job assignments
  • Formal development
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Assessment and feedback
  • Action learning projects

Step Five: Monitor, Evaluate, Revise

This step involves monitoring progress against milestones, assessing for continuous improvement purposes and adjusting the plan to make corrections and to address new workforce issues.

This step also involves tracking new hires and listening to supervisor feedback on success of internal talent and internal hires. It also requires analyzing other metrics established to gauge success and assessing the response to changing requirements and needs.

As with any company plan, the commitment for succession planning must start at the top of the organization. A policy needs to be created that clearly states the goals and objectives which becomes the “plan” for the succession requirements.

Younger employees can take advantage of succession planning within their companies and be crossed trained and educated to fill in the gaps that will be left by retiring employees. This needs to take place while the older employee is still working and mentoring can take place. The on-the-job training and the “learning curves” are greatly reduced. This is a good way to reduce errors and waste and also to reduce the potential for injuries and lost work time. Employees who have worked a particular job for a period of time know the ways to reduce their exposures and get the job done correctly.

If there is no one internal to the company to fulfill a position, good planning allows the human resource department the appropriate time to solicit an outside candidate and the organization can avoid a crisis.

Cynthia L. Roth is president and CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. (ETC), an ergonomics consulting and training firm based in Syosset, N.Y. She is a member of Occupational Hazards' Editorial Advisory Board. She can be reached at (516) 682-8558 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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