Bored womanTry this. Close your eyes and think of the words “succession planning”. Now try not to fall asleep. Hey! Wake up!

Succession planning doesn’t have the flashy name that some other hot topics, it’s pretty long-range and strategic, it’s sort of depressing and it’s very hard. So it doesn’t get a lot of attention. Add to that the fact that there are numerous variables that affect even the most water-tight of plans, and many of those have been drastically affected by the economy of late. Boomers are staying in the workforce longer, educated, loan-burdened students are expecting more from their first gigs (or going back to school altogether and many mid-level managers aren’t ready to take the executive mantle, yet everyone wants to be a leader.

Nope, succession planning is a thankless task, which is probably why 48% of HR Professionals admit, they haven’t done one. I’m no mathematician but that sounds like just about half. Have you created a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in your company? Has your leadership team? Has recruiting been made privy to this document?

Trish McFarlane talks about the difference between “succession readiness” and “sucession planning” on her blog HR Ringleader and it’s a key distinction. While succession planning seems overwhleming (especially if your company has never undertaken the task), “succession readiness” is a bit easier to swallow.

Succession expert Nancy Clarke state that “succession is part of any strategic plan” and needs to be dealt with “now instead of later”. Not having a sucession plan can lead to gaps, and not just in the C-Suite, although according to a global survey of HR leaders conducted by SumTotal, more than 80% of companies currently focus their succession planning efforts on the top three levels of their hierarchy, including top management.

That may not be the best way to move forward, experts suggest, noting that Gen X and Y workers may become frustrated at the lack of  a clear career path. Recruiting is also vastly affected by succession planning or lack thereof, scrambling to fill talent pipelines and recruit to crucial positions in a tough time crunch or creating a ceiling for top-performers who would otherwise stay with the company.

In many organizations, talent mobility is impeded because there is no consistent or systematic process for aligning current and future talent needs to the existing talent inventory. Global organizations want to promote cross-business unit transfers to retain their high performers, but many do not yet have a single HR system of record to identify and enable transfer opportunities consistently.

The above may be easier said than done. Succession planning is currently the least automated talent management process, according to a global survey of HR leaders conducted by SumTotal. While several companies exist to provide succession planning services, including SuccessFactors, Aquire and Halogen, HR professionals continue to put this strategic function on the back burner.

Google “succession planning sucks” and you will get more hits than if you google “automated succession planning”. Bloggers like Jessica Miller Merrell at Blogging4Jobs and Paul Lalovich at cite “human reasons” ego, lack of transparency and vulnerability as well as “corporate reasons” such as low priority, not a dynamic document, and over dependence on HR to “do” succession planning.

So, we all agree that it’s a little boring, we all agree that it’s important, what sort of resources exist to help HR professional motivate those within their organizations to move forward? All of the companies listed above (as well as many more) have written best practices white papers on the subject of succession planning. You can check out other practitioners’ approaches on Slideshare. But a comment By Tim Walker on the now defunct Punk Rock HR blog made me stop and think:

I wonder whether it wouldn’t help for every company to develop its people, and thereby its succession planning, by asking these two honest lines of questions in every performance review:

1. If you were hit by a bus, who could step in and at least wing it in your role? Who would you *like* to be able to step in for that?

2. What roles different from your own would *you* like to build your skills for?

Think it could work?

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