If companies want to be effective at filling unplanned vacancies, they must commit to developing a detailed and progressive succession plan to ensure they have the future skills required for corporate sustainability.
"There is no logical reason not to practice succession planning," says Bill Bliss, an executive leadership development consultant to several publicly held companies. "A key area of accountability for any corporate board should be to mandate a viable succession plan for at least the CEO, if not the key leadership team. If they don't demand that a plan be in place, the stockholders should fire the board."
Bliss adds that many privately held companies have numerous reasons for not having a succession plan, including a CEO who resists giving up the reins. Those CEOs don't appreciate the fact that they or their deputies could die or suffer permanent injury at any moment. "This really points to selfishness on their part, as they are not planning for the livelihood of so many other people who depend on their company--family, employees, customers and other stakeholders," he says.
In addition, the CEO--and even his or her team--is often too focused on short-term issues rather than long-term planning, and that also involves some selfishness. Another problem Bliss has noticed is that some CEOs plan succession in their heads--but neglect to tell anyone else. That means the likely successor has no clue about his or her future and won't be properly prepared to take over the position.
While the costs of avoiding succession management are significant, the rewards of doing it properly are great. Succession management can be incorporated into any size company from the smallest startup to a large corporate giant.
Norbert Kubilus, former chief operating officer of National Data Corp. and now CIO at Tatum Partners in San Diego, credits much of his professional success to the grooming he received through succession plans. As an executive, he's worked to create similar plans for his teams, and he sees an enormous upside for IT leaders.
"Some CIOs may feel threatened by the concept of succession planning, but developing strong candidates demonstrates that the incumbent CIO is concerned about the continuity of IT leadership and about protecting the company's technology investment," Kubilus says. "Having a ready successor may also allow a CIO in a larger or growing enterprise to move into another executive role--without having to leave the company or leave the IT organization with weak leadership."
Succession management also preserves a company's knowledge, including intellectual property. "With a lot of intellectual property [residing] in people's heads, it is important to preserve those heads via a good succession plan," says Manuel Mellos, IT director at Woolworths. "Succession planning also may assist in 'extracting' that intellectual property out of those heads."