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Succession planning takes real effort

Victoria MacLennan. 04 May 2023, 11:38 pm

Who will our future leaders be? What are you actively doing to create your replacement? These are questions we should be asking ourselves no matter what level of “the ladder” we sit. Even if it’s not obvious who your successor might be everyone you work with has the potential so supporting their development is crucial. 

Last week I was interviewed by CIO Magazine on developing the next generation of CIO’s and that discussion has sat with me leading to this blog. 

Short version. In the digital technology leadership context, where technology is ever-changing, and competition is intense, organisations need to design for, and prioritise succession planning to ensure that they have a talent pipeline to keep up with the pace of change.

Longer version below. 

Diversity is important but complex

I know, I talk about diversity a lot. One crucial aspect that organisations need to consider when developing a succession plan is diversity. As we know diversity refers to the variety of differences that individuals bring to the workplace, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, experience, and skills. Bringing these different perspectives and approaches to problem-solving fosters creativity and innovation, leading to better decision-making and improved outcomes and performance.

However, the complexity of diversity cannot be overlooked. It requires an inclusive culture that welcomes and values diversity. It also requires addressing conscious and unconscious biases that may exist in the workplace. Basically diversity must be prioritised and addressed deliberately, as does succession planing.  Diversity and inclusion initiatives should be present at all stages of the succession planning process, from identifying potential candidates to developing and promoting them.

Paying lip service to succession planning is too easy

Despite the benefits of diversity, it is often overlooked in succession planning, equally it’s far too easy to pay lip service to succession planning - they both languish on a risk register with action taken once a quarter at review time, then forgotten again. Good intentions and failure to implement effective strategies can result in missed opportunities and remember succession planning is an important anchor to help with retaining talent as well. 

This is why I am advocating that succession planning is all of our collective responsibility, something we all need to own. If you are a level 2 service desk person for instance, think about the skills and capability you developed when you were a level 1? how can you help those colleagues get to where you are when you move on? Equally if you are the CIO/CTO/CDO - how can you enable everyone who reports to you to develop in such a way they can step up into your role in the future??

Career progression and frameworks

Another of my favourite topics is career progression and utilising frameworks to guide progression.  Career progression is the process of moving from one role to another gaining new skills and experiences along the way. Frameworks like the SFIA one (the Skills Framework for the Information Age) have a massive role to play in this regard. SFIA enables organisations to create standardised position descriptions with clearly mapped progression based on the capabilities of the role.

Then the individual and organisation can use this as a map to inform areas for development. It also helps everyone understand what is expected of them. Yes there is work to do to get the framework humming but the results are awesome. 

Career planning

Every time you have a job interview they ask you that clichė question - where do you see yourself in 5 years (I must write a blog on asking good interview questions sometime) right? Most people say what they think the people interviewing them want to hear. When we were in college we’d also sometimes get a guidance councillor to give us advice - my daughter at 16 was told she should aspire to be a seamstress because she enjoyed her textiles class, it wasn’t great advice. Or remember that book “What colour is my parachute”?

The point here is we’ve all interacted with some form of career planning in our past. Great succession planning also requires great career planning and understanding who aspires to step into our shoes. 

If you are having trouble visualising your future career path I suggest getting a mentor to start with, someone who can help you understand your potential. Another great tactic is to meet lots of people and interview them over a coffee or zoom to understand their roles and whether what they do is something you aspire to work towards. Oh another great blog, 50 coffees (coming soon).

Talent development planning

For businesses succession planning comes down to creating talent development plans. Since this blog is getting long already I will just lay out the steps involved: 

  • Assess your organisational needs - designing an organisation structure for the future to align with your strategy will help significantly here. Also identifying key roles where succession planning is required. 
  • Identifying employee potential - assessment (using the SFIA framework in digital tech) of skills and capability across the team. 
  • Setting development goals - these should align with employee aspirations identified in their career planning
  • Creating development plans - these need to be specific about training, mentoring, coaching, job shadowing and other learning opportunities.
  • Monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of your plan

Hopefully this has got you all thinking. Ngā mihi Vic 


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