Many mistakes are commonly made in establishing succession planning programs. They are worth enumerating. It is also worthwhile to describe some ways to avoid these common mistakes.
1. Assuming that success at one level will guarantee success at higher levels
An individual’s success at one level is no guarantee of success at higher levels of responsibility. The reason is simple: the competencies required for success at each level are different. Hence, it is important to separate thinking about how well someone does his or her current job and how well he or she might do a job at a higher responsibility level.
2. Assuming that bosses are always the best judges of who is promotable
That is not always true. Bosses are self-interested players in the succession game. They have a stake in what happens to people.
Indeed, some bosses do not want to see their best people promoted for fear of an inability to replace them. Some bosses grade people by their own standards—with the result that some individuals who are quite unlike the boss are not considered for promotion. While the support of a boss is useful in developing individuals, more objective assessments, such as psychometric assessments are excellent in aiding the manager’s assessment.
3. Assuming that promotions are rewards
Some employees have an entitlement mentality in which they feel that long service with an organization should always be rewarded with promotions. But business decisions must be based on who will do the best job, not who is “owed” a promotion because of greatest seniority. Workers must continually be reminded that doing jobs at each level requires different competencies, and the best way for them to compete is to prepare for future challenges rather than expect promotions for past performance at a different level of responsibility.
4. Trying to do too much too fast
The strong results-orientation of many organizations today emphasizes quick results. Senior leaders expect to see all the components of a comprehensive succession system in place immediately. That is not always realistic. It is advisable to think of implementing systematic succession in a phased way—either from the top down or else starting in specific divisions or locations with greatest need.
5. Giving no thought to what to call the succession program
As any marketer knows, product names do matter. It is not necessary to call a spade a spade. Many organizations choose alternative names such as “leadership development program,” “human capital management program,” or even “talent program.”
6. Assuming that everyone wants a promotion
That is not always true today. In many downsized organizations, workers have seen what pressures their bosses have to deal with. Some say “leave me out of that.” Hence, it is unwise to assume that everyone wants a promotion—or even to assume that money will convince everyone. It will not. Check first. Find out what people want to do. For that reason, many organizations launch both a top-down succession planning program and a bottom-up career planning program to galvanize development efforts both among managers and among individuals.
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In your experience, are there any other mistakes to add to this list?