A first-generation mid-sized pharmaceutical company had recently lost FOUR key Executive Leaders and discovered that while it had a succession plan in place, in practice it had been mere window dressing. No development had been put in place to ensure that successors could step up into the roles and in In most cases only HR and the CEO knew who was designated for each role as a successor to avoid creating political problems and raising expectations that may not be fulfilled. It was recognized that had the meter been approached with greater openness and the investment made to develop people the firm would not find itself looking for at least two of the candidates outside the organization with the cost and time that involved and having to coach and train intensively the only successor able to fulfil one of the roles.
We were asked to develop a new approach to a succession planning that would avoid such a situation occurring again but also address the concerns about transparency and individual concerns.
In the first instance clear goals for the project to put in place an effective succession planning programs and a plan to reach those goals needed to be agreed upon. The goals were: to have a clear and communicated succession planning policy, to identify the roles within the scope of succession planning and to formulate a method of identifying and developing successors. The timescales were to reach these goals within 6 months of starting the process.
We created the first draft of a policy that became known as “Focused Development Programme” which included: purpose and goals, roles within scope, selection criteria and approach, identification of development needs, options available for development, a half-yearly assessment of progress, what happens when you are ready for promotion.
A formal risk assessment was undertaken with the financial implications of an opaquer approach versus a fully communicated policy were compared. Perhaps the most difficult point was to assess the financial benefits of having better-developed people in roles than before and this was resolved by the risk team who arrived at a formula linked to improved business results.
The board monitored progress each half-year following the assessment of Successors and recoded that they felt that this had been a wise the decision as an unexpected benefit had been a reduction in staff turnover due, they felt, to the feeling that the company took staff investment and progression seriously. Of the 18 Successors identified one had been promoted after their Manager had left the business and another was ready to take over from a retiring Vice-President.