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Replacement only Part of Succession Planning Story

March 9, 2011, Bhaskar Deka -

In the 2000 movie “The Replacements”, when the players of the fictional Washington Sentinels football team go on strike, the owner hires Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) as the head coach. McGinty recruits many different ragtag players, including Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a former star quarterback from Ohio State who was a failure in his only pro season. Under the leadership of McGinty and Falco, the replacements come together as a team and win the required games to advance to the play-offs.

“The movie was loosely based on the 1987 NFL strike, specifically the Washington Redskins, who won all three replacement games without any of their regular players, going on to win Super Bowl XXII at the end of the season”

Wish succession planning and talent management in the corporate world always worked out that well!

Succession planning should be part of a broader plan for overall talent mobility and career development across the organization. Successful organizations proactively assess the risks associated with each of the key roles in the organization, and maintain a talent pool internally across departmental boundaries that can help discover the right talent at the right time for a position at risk. Leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith goes on to say, “change the name of the process from succession planning to succession development. Plans do not develop anyone – only development experiences develop people”.

It is easy to take a narrow approach to succession planning and talent management by focusing only on the key senior management positions and having a plan in place for the proverbial “hit by the bus” or “win a lottery” scenarios for those positions. However, research shows very little, if any, material impact on the business results for employing such an approach. For succession planning to be effective, an organization needs to think about proactive planning up and down the entire leadership pipeline  and needs to take a holistic approach that takes into account career aspirations of the employees.

Some of the key questions to ask to implement an effective succession planning and talent management process:

- Have you identified the key positions that could have potential impact on business continuity if someone in that key position were to leave?
- Do you proactively maintain key talent measures (e.g., flight risk, retirement risk) across the organization?
- Do you have the right processes in place for identification and development of high potentials – at any level -   to feed your leadership pipeline?
- Do you maintain a leadership talent pool that crosses organizational boundaries?
- Do you have the right process in place so that you can discover the right talent at the right time deep or wide across the enterprise?

It is possible to get succession right sometimes without having the right succession planning processes in place (like the Redskins team in Super Bowl XXII). More often than not though, it leads to a wrong person in a role or taking too long to find the right person for a business critical role.  Embracing a succession planning and talent management strategy that focuses on the talent across your enterprise, rather than just on a replacement strategy for the ‘stars’ will strengthen your current and future talent pipeline, and help you cross the goal line to organizational success.