The problem of continuity is one that most, if not all,
companies face. Most executives, whether of private or public
companies, would not like to see the company fold, especially
under their watch. I have made reference in past articles
to the fact that there is a war for talent in corporate
Companies are all looking to employ people who can grow
and sustain their businesses and some would go to great
lengths to attract and retain talent.
A look at the human resource landscape reveals that most
companies which have been in business for at least 50 years
or more have a dominant two-tiered talent structure. On
the one hand, you have a number of employees who have seen
the business grow possibly from inception. These individuals
have a huge resource of intellectual capacity of how the
business runs and an even bigger store of institutional
memory, based on their years of experience. Many of these
employees may have professional certifications but lack
graduate degrees. This is also the group that will be retiring
On the other end of the spectrum is a second tier of employees;
those who have been with the company for under five years,
have graduate degrees, and little work experience.
The battle is for the third, smaller sandwich tier. These
are the small group of employeesmany in management
positionswho are armed with the graduate qualification,
have at least seven to ten years of work experience, and
have enough institutional memory to make them attractive
to your competitors.
The battle for talent in the marketplace is really for this
elite group of employees. If in your business this layer
is fast disappearing through attrition, you must ensure
there are effective succession planning mechanisms in place
for the business to grow and thrive.
And this is not for HR managers alone. There are a few key
strategies that you can employ to build your succession
1. Talent management
The first thing that should be done is an inventory of the
talent that currently resides within the company. Some of
the questions that should be asked are: what qualifications
do my employees have? How long have they been here, and
what skills have they attained? If employee X leaves today,
what will it take to replace her? Do I have the skills within,
or will we have to hire an outsider?
These are a few critical questions that must be answered.
This process can get complicated, but it can be as simple
as getting out a sheet of paper, writing down the names
of your most valued employees, and writing down the specific
competencies that they have that make them valuable. Then
look at your wider employee base, and see if there is anyone
who has these qualities, at least in some measure.
2. Business process
Many businesses know what they do and they do it well. When
a key person leaves the organisation, however, the service
level suddenly falters and employees dont have a clear
sense of what to do next. The solution? BPM.
BPM is a management model that allows organisations to manage
their processes as any other asset and improve and manage
them over the period of time. Simply put, if its key
to the process, then write it down.
The development of process manuals that lists key steps
in business processes is a tedious and ongoing process with
countless revisions, but unless a business has some way
of documenting its institutional history, chances are it
will walk out of the door with your key employee when they
3. Training and
Now that you have written down the key skills that employees
need in order for the business to function, you may want
to consider having both technical and non-technical training
done to boost the skills internally.
One of the arguments against training is the fact that some
of the well-trained people still leave. But, the fact is,
it you dont train them, they will probably leave anyway.
Additionally, there are contractual arrangements surrounding
training that can be put in place to stem the tide.
Training should be done in two prongs: core and non-core.
Core would be those areas that are key to the success of
the business. If you sell industrial parts, then training
should be done in the installation and maintenance of those
parts. Non-core does not mean less important; it just refers
to training in other areas that support the business, like
customer training and leadership.
One great way of transferring institutional memory is through
coaching and mentoring, where more experienced and knowledgeable
employees are paired with less experienced employees. The
catch here is that sometimes the wrong organisational culture
can be transferred.
Some employees who have been with the company for many years
may be disgruntled and may pass on less-than-effective work
habits to their protégés.
To counter this, be careful of your selection, develop a
formal programme with a defined timespan, and have deliverables
along the way. This can prove to be a very rewarding strategy
as more experienced employees feel valued for their knowledge,
less experienced employees gain important insights into
the business, and the company ensures that the institutional
memory is passed on.
This is by no means an exhaustive account of what companies
can do to develop their succession planning capability.
The key to the process is not to think of the future, but
to think of the future of present decisions. Succession
planning must start NOW. If you wait for critical events
in the business to trigger it, it may be too late.
Jeremy Francis is an engagement manager, Centre for Leadership
Development, Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business.
He can be reached at [email protected]