Succession Planning in the Age of Constant Change

Succession Planning in the Age of Constant Change- Shivani Singh
Succession planning must also flow from the business strategy, it must be focused on the skills needed to thrive in the digitally transformed context, which brings us to the second variable – the skills of the future.

While most organizations appreciate the need for effective succession planning, few manage to do it well.

In a world that is undergoing constant change, businesses are thrust with different comparison points every second. The recent pandemic and the following attrition trends have further intensified the complex business environment.

Power has shifted from organizations to people. If statistics are to be believed, the June 2022 report from Michael Page suggests – a whopping 86% of employees in India are planning to resign in the next six months, and 61% are willing to accept lower salaries, no promotions/or a pay raise for a better work-life balance, overall well-being and happiness.

To top it all, expert reports say that innovations are making skills obsolete faster, which means even the most valuable talent today may start getting obsolete day by day.

With these changes already occurring, the single most existential question for organizations today is – “How can they ensure they have the talent with the relevant skills in place to thrive in the constantly changing future?”

This leads us to discuss the variables of the continuously changing business environment, and how the succession planning process can evolve to complement the continuously changing business needs.

Acing the Rapidly Changing Future

The hyperconnected digital world may be perplexing, but the challenges it presents are of our own making. It is thus in our control to address them. To do so I believe we must first address the three different but interrelated variables impacting every organization’s stance and success –

  • Context
  • Skills
  • Way forward

Context is Essential to Anticipate the Emerging Trends and Connect the Dots

Whether it’s sales, customer service, supply chain, marketing, people process, etc., digital transformation has impacted every area of business.

Today every company needs to think of itself as a technology company. And if that’s the course future is taking, then it’s imperative for companies to let their business strategies flow from this context.

And since succession planning must also flow from the business strategy, it must be focused on the skills needed to thrive in the digitally transformed context, which brings us to the second variable – the skills of the future.

Skills of the Future

Organizations today are struggling in a digitally transforming context. Mckinsey reports that 70% of organizations fail in their digital transformation journey. 

This is because their approach is primarily based on technology infrastructures, process changes, customer journeys, cost impact, etc., and they completely ignore the fact that digital change is not just about having digital infrastructure, but equally and as much about having the right skills and mindsets.

But what are these skills? We can think of these skills in terms of three pillars of digital context:

  • Agile: This requires us to be open, curious, willing to learn, reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses, and embrace and ready ourselves for change.
  • Change: This is about having evolved change muscles like – leaning into volatility, inspiring, collaborating, empowering, not trying to lead all the time but being humbly aware and comfortable in not knowing the unknown, and stepping back and being a facilitator while allowing empowered teams to work out new solutions.
  • Driving business: The third and most crucial element requires networking skills, identifying and developing new opportunities, providing new solutions, and taking calculated risks while maintaining integrity and remaining resilient.

The Way Forward – The Steps to Get to the Future

Once we’ve figured out the skills that our organization needs to thrive amidst change, having some framework around identifying those skills will give us a playfield to develop our succession process and better plan our talent pool. Here’s one way we can think of mapping the digitalized business context with skills and behaviours.

Skills ->AgileChangeDriving Business
TraitsAgility Learnability, etc.Self-secure, Humility Collaborative, Empowering Not a control freak, etc.Communication Clarity Strategic Solutions-oriented, etc.
Behaviors to be measuredShow-me it works attitude Believe in incremental change Expect early returns Transparent to sharing Let’s do it freaks, etc.Open to suggestions Humble to step back, yet participate as enablers Adapt, explore, allow people to try, etc.Leverage market forces for business use Leverage team strengths to drive outcomes Inspire teams to work with creative conflicts, etc.

This may be different for different organizations basis their context but having something like this in place will help them identify the talent with the relevant skill sets, develop them further and make the future talent pool ready to meet their needs. Taking this a step further we’ll discuss some of the methods that our succession planning process must entail.

Succession Planning That Will Work in Future

The first thing to keep in mind when creating a succession plan for the future is to keep it future-focused. Rather than looking at it from a role/position-specific perspective, we have to look at it from a future business skill perspective. More than looking at it from an individual talent lens, we have to look at it from a group and inter-group-talent lens. Some of the questions that organization leaders can ask are –

  • How does the individual skill play out in a group setup?
  • Does the individual amplify the collaborative strength or is he/she a complete standout?

This is because the future is getting exponentially dynamic, and no one individual or group is sufficient in itself. Therefore, the interplay of skills between different individuals and groups is going to be the key to amplifying creative solutions.

Here are some of the criticalities that must be looked into when developing a future-looking succession plan:

  1. Fluidity: Considering the future is exponentially dynamic, we need an indicative playfield that keeps shifting with the shifting business needs.
  2. Spread across layers – The future is not leader/role reliant anymore. There’s very little that organizations can do if they have vacant critical positions across different layers of the organization. By bringing different layers of the organization within its folds, a succession plan will strengthen the key talent pool bench for filling critical vacancies for business continuity from within.
  3. Mirror business needs – Business strategies keep shifting and re-adjusting to changing business scenarios. The succession plan needs to echo the change if the strategy has to be implemented. Therefore, having a fluid succession plan enables HR to pivot mid-way and mirror businesses’ agile capability needs.
  4. Create an internal marketplace – According to Josh Bersin, an ex-Deloitte Partner and founder of The Josh Bersin Academy, companies have been restructuring at lightning speed. To keep up with change, we need a smarter way to move the right people into the right role. Apart from the outside, this can also be organized from the internal talent pool, which will also reduce external recruitment costs, optimize talent utilization, and reduce attrition.
  5. Future-looking, career pathing – Organizations need to institute aspirational processes that spike up both retention and engagement rates and career pathing helps with both.
  6. Line manager’s responsibility – The ultimate stewardship of succession planning must lie with the line managers. They don’t develop people enough and depend on HR to do that. HR here must only be the enabler.

The Covid-19 crisis and mass attrition threw organizations into chaos and exposed their critical strategic gap. If organizational leaders are not driven to have in place a well-suited succession plan that factors in both internal and external market instability, it might throw their business projections out of the window.

Therefore, as daunting and painful as it may seem, we must remember that businesses today are like surfers who are constantly trying to balance themselves on rapidly shifting waves. Avoiding planning their critical skills (talent) pipeline will only make it more difficult to survive and thrive.


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