Effective Succession Planning
Ensuring Leadership Continuity and Building Talent from Within
Author: William J. Rothwell
Pub Date: November 2015
Print Edition: $69.95
Print ISBN: 9780814449158
Page Count: 512
Edition: Fifth Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814449165
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What Is Succession Planning
Can You Solve These Succession Problems?
How is your organization handling succession planning and management (SP&M)?
Read the following vignettes and, on a separate sheet, describe how your organization
would solve the problem presented in each. If you can offer an effective solution to
all the problems in the vignettes, then your organization may already have an effective
SP&M program in place; if not, your organization may have an urgent need to devote
more attention to succession issues.
An airplane crashes in the desert, killing all on board. Among the passengers are
several top managers of Acme Engineering, a successful consulting firm. When the
vice president of human resources at Acme is summoned to the phone to receive the
news, she gasps, turns pale, looks blankly at her secretary, and breathlessly voices
the first question that enters her mind: ‘‘Now who’s in charge?’’
On the way to a business meeting in Bogota, Colombia, the CEO of Normal Fixtures
(a maker of ceramic bathroom fixtures) is seized and held for ransom by freedom
fighters. They demand U.S. $1 million within 72 hours for his life, or they will kill
him. Members of the corporate board are beside themselves with concern.
Georgina Myers, supervisor of a key assembly line, has just called in sick after two
years of perfect attendance. She handles all purchasing and production scheduling in
the small plant, and overseeing the assembly line. The production manager, Mary
Rawlings, does not know how the plant will function absent this key employee, who
carries in her head essential and proprietary knowledge of production operations. She
is sure that production will be lost today because Georgina has no trained backup.
Marietta Diaz was not promoted to supervisor. She is convinced that she is a victim
of racial and sexual discrimination. Her manager, Wilson Smith, assures her that that
is not the case. He explains his reason to her: ‘‘You just don’t have the skills and
experience to do the work. Gordon Hague, who was promoted, already possesses
those skills. The decision was based strictly on individual merit and supervisory job
requirements.’’ But Marietta remains troubled. How, she wonders, could Gordon
have acquired those skills in his previous nonsupervisory job?
Morton Wile is about to retire as CEO of Multiplex Systems. For several years he has
been grooming L. Carson Adams as his successor. Adams has held the posts of executive
vice president and chief operating officer, and his performance has been exemplary
in those positions. Wile has long been convinced that Adams will make an
excellent CEO. But, as his retirement date approaches, Wile has recently been hearing
questions about his choice. Several division vice presidents and members of the board
of directors have asked him privately how wise it is to allow Adams to take over, since
(it is whispered) he has had a long-term, high-profile extramarital affair with his
secretary and is rumored to be an alcoholic. How, they wonder, can he be chosen to
assume the top leadership position when burdened with such personal baggage? Wile
is loathe to talk to Adams because he does not want to police anyone’s personal life.
But he is sufficiently troubled to think about initiating an executive search for a CEO
candidate from outside the company.
Linda Childress is general manager of a large consumer products plant in the Midwest.
She has helped her plant weather many storms. The first was a corporatesponsored
voluntary early retirement program, which began eight years ago. Because
program Linda lost her most experienced workers, and among its effects on the plant
were costly work redistributions, retraining, retooling, and automation. The second
storm was a forced layoff that occurred five years ago, driven by fierce foreign competition
in consumer products. The layoff cost Linda fully one-fourth of her most
recently hired workers and many middle managers, professionals, and technical employees.
It also led to a net loss of protected labor groups in the plant’s workforce to
a level well below what had taken the company ten years of ambitious efforts to
achieve. Other consequences were increasingly aggressive union actions in the plant;
isolated incidents of violence against management personnel by disgruntled workers;
growing evidence of theft, pilferage, and employee sabotage; and skyrocketing absenteeism
and turnover rates.
The third storm swept the plant on the heels of the layoff. Just three years ago
corporate headquarters announced a company-wide process improvement program.
Its aims were to improve product quality and customer service, build worker involvement
and empowerment, reduce scrap rates, and meet competition from abroad.
Although the goals were laudable, the program was greeted with skepticism because
it was introduced so soon after the layoff. Many employees—and supervisors—voiced
the opinion that ‘‘corporate headquarters is using process improvement to clean up
the mess they created by chopping heads first and asking questions about work reallocation
later.’’ However, because job security is an issue of paramount importance to
everyone at the plant, the external consultant sent by corporate headquarters to introduce
the process improvement program received grudging cooperation. But the process
improvement initiative has created side effects of its own. One is that executives,
middle managers, and supervisors are uncertain about their roles and the results
expected of them. Another is that employees, pressured to do better work with fewer
resources, are complaining bitterly about compensation or other reward practices
they feel do not reflect their increased responsibilities, efforts, or productivity. And a
fourth storm is brewing. Corporate executives, it is rumored, are considering moving
all production facilities offshore to take advantage of reduced labor and employee
health-care insurance costs. Many employees are worried this is really not a rumor
but a fact.
Against this backdrop, Linda has noticed that it is becoming more difficult to find
backups for hourly workers and to ensure leadership continuity in the plant’s middleand
top-management ranks. Although the company has long conducted an annual
succession planning and management ritual, in which standardized forms, supplied
by corporate headquarters, are sent out to managers by the plant’s human resources
department, Linda cannot remember when the forms were used during a talent
search. The major reason, Linda believes, is that managers and employees have rarely
followed through on the Individual Development Plans (IDPs) established to prepare
people for advancement opportunities.
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