Sharing Best Practices
Savvy companies tend to share several common traits that make their succession plans work. First, their succession plans are easy to use. Successful plans are not bureaucratic. They are uncomplicated processes with a unified approach to ensure consistency and maintain objectivity across all departments, in all organizational levels and at all locations throughout the company.
The best plans are developmentally oriented--a proactive vehicle for managers to reflect on the progress of their talent and opportunities for further development--rather than simply replacement oriented. Highly effective plans actively involve the very top players in the organization.
Another successful method for candidate development includes planned job rotations within the IT department. For example, Kubilus says that senior directors can rotate through IT operations, application development, telecom and planning, as well as in functions like finance and administration, or in specific business units. Mentoring candidates in areas such as customer service, vendor management and contract negotiation also can help broaden their skill sets.
Best-practice succession plans are also effective at highlighting gaps in talent and identifying positions that are critical to the organization's success. Succession planning does the job of monitoring the succession process, enabling the company to ensure that the right people are moving into the right jobs at the right time and that gaps are being spotted early on.
Successful plans are built around continual reinvention. Best-practice companies continually refine and adjust their plans as they receive feedback, monitor developments in technology and learn from other leading organizations. Where old plans were characterized by confidentiality and secrecy, today's plans actually encourage involvement by participants, as well as candidates for future openings. Under older systems, few participants knew where they actually stood in terms of their potential for career opportunities.
Tim McHugh, CTO at TriMet, a public transportation service based in Portland, Ore., says he focuses on honing staffers' understanding of the business. When the IT department has vacancies, McHugh says that by developing its staff, existing IT people easily step into new positions, and then he can hire behind them.
He also attributes this internal development and succession management as key ingredients in TriMet's low turnover. "We try to hire people in at the less-experienced positions and develop them," McHugh says. "It provides for professional growth and builds more stable and durable institutional knowledge."
When someone retires from TriMet, McHugh and his team use the opportunity to address changes in technology. It's often the case, he says, that the retiring staffer is working with a technology that's nearing obsolescence. Phasing out an older technology using senior and developing staff working together provides a more effective succession management transition--and can be a rewarding project for someone nearing the end of his or her career. The transference of business knowledge from the experienced to the inexperienced tends to be more important than the technology transfer itself, he adds.
Retirement is not TriMet's highest risk, although it is the easiest to plan for. "The potential for key staff in support of our mission-critical areas to walk out the door unexpectedly is what we want to be mindful of," McHugh says. "We want to make sure we are properly staffed and are not short-handed on experience in these areas."