KPMG India’s Sunit Sinha on paradigm shift in succession planning

KPMG India's Sunit Sinha on paradigm shift in succession planning
The biggest challenge is that incumbent leaders often resist the need or imperative to have a succession plan for themselves. They perceive this as a zero-sum situation that will make them irrelevant or put their future growth/ career at risk.

Rendezvous with Sunit Sinha, Head of People, Performance and Culture (PPC), KPMG India on a paradigm shift in Succession Planning

Sunit has more than 24 years of experience in human resources. Prior to joining KPMG Sunit was working with Accenture Strategy as Managing Director – Talent and Organisation practice, where he engaged in large transformation engagements across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

He has also built global consulting capabilities in geographies such as China, Indonesia and Latin America. He frequently publishes and is a speaker at industry conferences. His most recent research paper is on the impact of cognitive computing on workforce productivity in the future, discussing how leaders must adapt to AI in their teams.

One of his keen areas of interest is in the application of human-centered design thinking to help organisations tackle their most critical challenges in the areas of leadership, culture change and talent strategy. Sunit has also worked with Arthur Andersen and Mercer in the human capital field, M&A integration and talent consulting.

In his leisure, Sunit enjoys blogging on contemporary interest issues ranging from military history and space exploration to geopolitics.

Q- How do you see a paradigm shift in succession planning within organizations?

Succession Planning has to become far more agile and dynamic especially as we have to be prepared for continued disruptions to business due to a myriad of factors.  This disruption can impact organizations in manifold ways including sudden loss of critical leadership talent. Hence, you need to be ready now rather than planning for something that may or may not happen in 2 or 3 years from now.

A few simple guiding principles that may help – 1) Identify the key roles which you need to have a plan for 2) Be early in identifying a “bench” of potential leaders who can be ready to take on these roles – this cannot be a static list – has to be kept dynamic and refreshed periodically – don’t only rely on traditional annual processes and 3) this is a business led exercise not just something that the HR function has to drive. 

In fact, for C level roles in the case of public listed companies, this needs to be on the agenda of the Board as well.

Q- How do you explain and ensure effective succession planning?

First and foremost, realize that there is no perfect process or plan. But that should not stop you from having one – and the most important facet of an effective succession planning process is that you have alternatives, you have a Plan B and a Plan C and most importantly, you are ready to change your approach quickly if the context changes

Q- What are the biggest challenges in succession planning?

In my mind the biggest challenge is that incumbent leaders often resist the need or imperative to have a succession plan for themselves. They perceive this as a zero-sum situation that will make them irrelevant or put their future growth/ career at risk.

Unfortunately, organizations need to spend far more time in providing clarity to these leaders that their own future growth prospects are inextricably linked with them developing a strong second line that allows them to move on and do bigger/ different roles. 

The other challenge is that career paths/ architecture cannot be “one size fits all” and unidimensional. Today most organizations need to re-think their career paths as horizontal and diagonal as well and not just the traditional view of these being vertical.

Unless leaders buy into this and change the narrative on what “good” looks like from a career growth perspective, we will not see robust succession strategies come into play. This is the hard part that many organizations do not address.

Q- What are the five key aspects to consider in developing an effective succession strategy?

There are a few principles that are non-negotiable:

  • It’s not an option to be left to individual leaders – drive it as a business process almost as a contingency for business continuity
  • Do it early and often – you never know when a Black Swan event could disrupt your leadership bandwidth
  • Involve the right level of stakeholders especially when it comes to the senior to top management roles
  • Link your strategy to the business outlook – in terms of the time horizon. Else you may set the wrong expectations
  • Be prepared to change your strategy if it’s not working. Very often the best plans fail as we make them too rigid

Q- Any concluding remarks

When it comes to a process such as Succession Planning, its fair to say that for too long, organizations may not have taken a deliberate and intentional view towards thinking about this in an agile manner.

Given the increasing complexities of business and volatile talent markets, a one size fits all or BAU (business as usual) approach will not work anymore.

The need is to have a design thinking approach like a MVP (Minimum Viable Process) which is simple, flexible and can be adapted quickly. Most importantly shifting the ownership of doing this to the business leaders involved/ impacted is key to success.

Thank you, Sunit!


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