We know that CEO tenure is decreasing; it’s now eight years, down from ten years in 2000. Plus we know that senior executives are unrelenting in the way they plan their careers; including the organisations they’d like to work for and when.

If CEO tenure is eight years, and your organisation is looking to manage talent against a five year strategy, how do you ensure talent management is forward focused, aligned with business strategy and has the momentum to take your organisation into the future?

There is a danger that by taking a short-term approach to succession management, organisations merely clone the current incumbent and replace him or her with a like-for-like replacement.

What succession management is not

To articulate what Armstrong Craven’s definition of succession management is, I think it’s important to differentiate it by describing what it is not!

It is not:

  • A process that happens when someone leaves, is expected to leave, or is promoted. It happens anyway in order to manage risk to the business.
  • Replacement planning for current individuals (executive cloning).
  • Driven by knowledge or comfort of individuals. It should be linked to the future of the organisation and to the leadership competencies required in the future.
  • An annual or six monthly process. It is a continuous flow, a dynamic and ongoing business imperative.
  • Driven by an individual. It needs to be a collective; across geographies, functions and business units.
  • Detached from organisational culture. An understanding of culture is crucial in identifying successors as our experience tells us.
  • A pool of internal candidates. Top Companies believe they can fill all senior roles internally but most cannot. External benchmarking still needs to be undertaken to understand what good looks like.

Are you cloning or managing?

In order to determine the level of maturity of succession management in your organisation by yourself and colleagues:

  • Who owns succession?
  • Have you defined the leadership competencies you need in the future?
  • Have you identified these individuals that have the ability?
  • Are talent acquisition, internal talent development, succession planning and HR joined-up internally?

How to make it work

  • Get business unit buy in. Succession management is most effective when tied to bonus. In one international bank we work with, 20% of bonus is attributed to succession management.
  • Have an organisation wide internal talent database to make succession achievable. This means it is manageable right through the organisation not only at the top levels. Define unique individuals who are ‘ready now’, ‘ready soon’ and ‘ready later’ and keep an eye on other emerging talent.
  • Make it future focussed. Succession management requires the business to link the business plan and future strategy and therefore requires and integration between workforce planning and the strategic business plan.
  • Track pivotal roles that are emerging as pressure points. For example one company we work with tracks senior people against development plans, but also against personal needs and milestones.
  • Manage it as a risk. Succession management needs to be adaptable. Focus on lynchpin roles. Incorporate it into the Board’s routine agenda.
  • Make it transparent. It encourages clarity and integrity and it minimises politics. Succession management requires a category for those who are not high potentials but who are key contributors with consistent performance have not yet demonstrated high potential.
  • Build depth in your talent pipeline. Understand who you have now who is ‘ready now’ and ‘ready later’ and supplement this with external candidates. A succession plan with only internal candidates is not comprehensive succession management.

The maturity of succession management

I believe that regulation of leadership risk is just around the corner and that all publicly listed companies will be required to show effective succession management. The model of reporting in the financial services sector is likely to be replicated elsewhere as people risk moves up the agenda.

I also believe the days of the little black book of traditional head-hunters are numbered and that it’s time for organisations to really manage succession, not just ‘clone’ their outgoing executives. A move from succession planning to succession management will help maintain organisational intellectual property and organisational memory, and bring leadership continuity.

Heather Travis is Regional Director for APAC at Armstrong Craven. Follow her @singaporeAC where she Tweets about talent issues in APAC.

Back to blog