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Building Your Bench: Succession Planning Dos and Don'ts

Building Your Bench: Succession Planning Dos and Don'ts

Having a capable successor means your own career can advance. And keeps recruiters' hands off your best talent

I am an executive recruiter, and sometime in the next 12 months, I am going to call your top employee and ask her to consider a new job opportunity. She will answer me in one of two ways. Either she will say: "No thank you. My company treats me really well and is grooming me for my next position", or she'll tell me the words I love to hear: "I've hit a ceiling in my company and would be delighted to talk."

Which answer she gives me will hinge on the succession planning program you have in place. Without a decent succession plan, your retention rates will suffer as will your own ability to advance in your company. What CEO will move you into a new position if you cannot backfill the CIO spot with someone wonderful?

Running a succession planning program is not easy, and with all of the other responsibilities on your plate, it can sit on the back burner for a long, long time. To give you the inspiration you need to get moving on this critical effort, I've enlisted the help of three CIOs who have created a culture of succession in their own organizations and have lessons learned to share from their efforts.

1. Embed succession planning in your reorganization.

In February 2004, insurance company Bristol West Holdings went public, and the board of directors listed enterprise succession planning as a top priority. Jack Ondeck, CIO, did a gap analysis of the skills his direct reports had at the time and those they needed in order to succeed him as CIO.

In addition to providing them the training they needed to tighten the gaps - by giving them more budget responsibility to help build their financial knowledge, for example - he made succession planning a critical factor in his reorganization the following year. "We moved to a federated model so that most of my senior staff has a dotted line to a senior VP who is responsible for a large area like claims, point of sale or product lifecycle," says Ondeck. "Since my directors are now setting priorities for the entire group, they are essentially running their own IT organization with all of the strategic, leadership and political responsibilities that come along with the role." Ondeck's only regret: "I wish I did the reorganization earlier. The new reporting structure makes my direct reports much better at the jobs they have now."

2. Don't be too specific about growth opportunities.

When Karin Catton became CIO of manufacturer Johns Manville in 2003, she conducted an employee satisfaction survey in her department; on a scale of one to five, her employees rated their happiness a one. They felt disconnected from the business, without strong leadership and generally dissatisfied. HR had started down the road of succession planning in other areas of the company, so Catton harnessed some of the tools they were using and applied them to IT.

The program she created has her vice presidents, directors, senior managers and managers meeting with their managers on a quarterly basis to learn where they need to focus to move up in the organization. Her advice: "Everyone in the program should know that they are being groomed for a role with a greater span of control, but they should not get too focused on one specific position. If turnover doesn't happen and that one role doesn't open up, they will become disgruntled."

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