June 11, 2019

Organizational Analysis: Career Pathing and Succession Planning

Keli Trejo

Keli Trejo
Principal Consultant and Executive Coach/Rising Mountain Studio

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Today, I will riff on career pathing and succession planning as two critical organizational design factors.   Not getting this right creates future risk for your organization; so let’s get right to it!

What Is It?

The term Career paths refers to the clear ways an employee can make progress in their career.  Ideally, there would be many directions a career path could develop, but even one direct line of progression will serve you well. While most can see how this benefits an employee, we will get into how it also benefits the organization.

Succession planning refers to the process of ensuring critical roles have a backup. It also refers to the process of identifying individuals or roles that will become the successor for each critical role identified within the organization.  Ideally, you would have someone (or two, or three…) ready to promote, when needed, into each critical role to avoid gaping holes in organizational knowledge and capability.

Key Organizational Indicators

It may be time to look at Career paths when:

  • You hear complaints of lack of opportunity from staff.
  • You experience turnover that can be directly linked to lack of advancement opportunity—resulting in the additional cost of hiring and training new staff.
  • You experience apathy and disengagement of employees (the same employees representing the organization and serving your customers).
  • Related to the earlier discussion of level distribution, you experience confusion and angst when opportunities for advancement are not consistent across the organization.

It may be time to look at succession planning when:

  • You lay awake at night worried about what you would do if a critical employee (or two, or three…) announces his/her departure.
  • You have several roles/people who are single points of failure (SPOFs).  They are the only ones who know what they know and do what they do, creating significant risk.  (A Boston-based client recently told me that while they don’t have SPOFs, they do have SPOWS  “single points of wicked slowdown.”—Look for those, too!)
  • You are passing the reigns to the next generation of leaders in the organization, and you currently do not have a perspective nor a plan.

Recommendations

As you can surmise, deliberate, well-designed career paths and succession plans can maintain your organizational health in significant ways.  They fill very important gaps.  Some of my recommendations for planning well are:

Career Paths

  • Be very clear about what it takes in terms of skills, capabilities, and behaviors to be promoted to the next level. If I had a dime for every time someone said they were confused about this, I would be a very, very rich lady.
  • Look for creative solutions. Career paths don’t have to be linear and straight up a ladder. Rotating through a department not directly aligned with your specialty broadens experience and perspective.  Make lateral moves attractive for employees by providing a modest salary increase in recognition of their leap.  Make promotion decisions that reward prior lateral moves.
  • Have regular, transparent, proactive career conversations with employees. It is a leader’s responsibility to coach and develop employees.  And if it isn’t happening where you work, it should be. Opportunity for skill mastery is one of the keys to employee motivation, engagement, and productivity.

Succession planning

  • Identify critical roles within your organization. Don’t just think of what you need today. What do you project will be the needs of the organization going forward?  Align your plan with your business strategy.
  • Identify people who you want to be ready for a promotion into a critical spot, then develop and coach the heck out of them- formally, informally, and on the job.
  • Give them time and space to learn. Many organizations fall short on a succession plan when the paper doesn’t match the reality.  They keep staff so busy with a current role that they are unable to learn—and are unable to fill an organizational role when needed.
  • Update the succession plan regularly to account for unexpected changes.

And so ends this post about the importance of Career Paths and Succession Plans.  I’m so glad we had this time together…(did I just date myself?  Any Carol Burnett fans out there?)

The next post will be the final in this series, as we look at Fixed and Variable Staffing as critical organizational design factors.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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