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July 25, 2014
Successful Employee Succession
 
When a position opens at a company, often a hiring manager’s first instinct is to contact the recruiter with a job spec and demand to see a cavalcade of resumes within the next day or so. Then reality hits and we’re reminded about that pesky War for Talent, specifically at more senior levels, where leaders are in short supply. 

Rather than focusing resources on external hiring every time (and using hiring as a constant solution to recurring turnover), perhaps it’s time to take Succession Planning seriously. It’s by no means an easy solve, especially in marketing or any other client service business. When a company’s clients are involved, they tend to come first, which unfortunately can mean that preparing internal talent comes second. Client demands, coupled with less staff, leave leaders with little time for team development, not to mention training opportunities. When employees aren’t developed, don’t receive training, have no career path, and believe they come second to clients, they leave.

It’s critical for companies in service industries to shift the paradigm and devote attention to establishing and maintaining a successful succession planning model. One of the most successful hotel chains, Marriott, has happy employees for a reason. “Marriott takes immense effort to guarantee employee contentment and loyalty. Apart from fostering an environment of learning and development, the organization also offers employees growing opportunities (such as) Talent Development and Pipeline Succession Planning, which can be described as a tool to determine recruiting needs, plan talent development and succession planning activities ensuring that Marriott has ongoing supply of talent.”

In addition to potential talent retention, there’s a multitude of benefits, including:
  • Employees are happy: They have a career path! The company has empowered and motivated them. They’re being encouraged to get to the next level, and with that recognition to work towards, they’re more likely to achieve the objectives set and reach the goal at hand.
  • The company succeeds: In fortifying existing bench strength and investing in training and development, the company is preparing talent for the future. Talent that is intimate with the company’s culture, systems, and values will be more likely to convey that understanding across team members, thus creating culture and knowledge consistency.
  • The Keepers are identified: High performers quickly rise to the occasion when they know recognition and elevation are at stake. Those performing beyond expectations easily stand out, thus allowing the company to focus on retaining and satisfying top talent. 
  • Grow as a leader: Supervisors have no choice but to delegate for the best of the team (good news to those of you finding it difficult to let go). This decrease on some of the more tactical workload not only enables a team to learn and manage, but allows employees to develop more strategic thinking skills.
  • Improve the bottom line: By having talent at the ready when positions open, roles are filled quickly, affecting not only the time to hire, but also keeping a team fully staffed and decreasing the opportunity for burnout. Potential recruiting fees associated with hiring externally (if the company typically utilizes search firms) can also be avoided.
Succession planning makes sense on many levels, but where do you start? Get in the right frame of mind:
  • A Talent Mindset is imperative at the top. HR can’t be the sole driver. All leaders’ time, support, and compliance are critical to the success of this type of program. Involvement from the CEO, senior leaders, and HR representatives must be sincere and constant. They must hold themselves and all leaders accountable for identifying and developing strong performers. 
  • Be realistic and patient, as this will take time. This is not a task-based goal, but rather an impact-based one. Without immediate gratification, managers can tend to lose interest and move on to the next client demand. Employees require constant care; the program requires constant diligence.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Chances are your company has a performance evaluation system. Use it, evolve it, and work with the Human Resources team to experience the system to its fullest potential to uncover needs the company may not even know it has. If it doesn’t exist, create it. A formalized performance evaluation system is a critical building block for understanding talent development and management.
  • Work collaboratively. This term is so overused, but the act is quite underused. HR representatives and leaders alike need to work with other directors if talent is going to grow in the company. Sharing best practices for talent development, as well as specific employee developmental needs across other managers, will enable talent to grow that much stronger.
Succession planning is a no-brainer for so many companies, yet requires much thought, discipline, and compliance to ensure true success. When leaders partner effectively with HR, great progress can be made.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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