Strength in depth – More than Succession Planning
Succession planning is a necessity, but one that is often overlooked with serious consequences. And it’s not just the large groups that have to plan ahead; it’s the small operations that can be hit just as hard, if not harder, as its here where the loss of a key member of staff can be truly devastating.
The continued focus on cost reduction has lead to leaner and leaner operations. Indeed in some manufacturing sectors, think paper mills and plastics, the degree of automation, and the resulting reduction in headcount, is quite staggering.
So whether it is having plans to replace the retiring, the promoted or the key player who left, it is clear that companies need to think beyond having staff to step up into their bosses shoes.
For one thing in these lean environments the most business critical staff are often not the mangers but the operators or at least those we would consider on the front line.
On the frontline then, with no subordinate to promote clearly the best way to develop strength in depth is to develop an active process of cross training and or job rotation; ensuring staff are multi-skilled and can cover each others roles.
Is it really necessary?
There is no simple answer but in the vast majority of cases you’d have to say very definitely yes.
If you need proof try this little rough risk assessment:
For each role consider
What would happen if the member of staff were to disappear overnight?
How would the business cope?
Who else can do the job?
Who has the knowledge?
Who has the time?
How long will it take to find a replacement?
How will the business suffer in that period?
What will be the cost?
If you have identified a significant risk / cost, which invariably most organisations will, you need to plan to cover these eventualities.
In terms of middle ranking and senior staff being promoted or moving on, of course the more traditional succession planning can be adopted with subordinates being groomed for a step up. However even in these circumstances the role of cross training and ensuring peer groups of managers have an understanding of their colleague’s roles should not be under-estimated. No matter how well groomed the subordinate, a sudden step up into the spotplight can be daunting, having a colleague who is a worst understanding and at best an active mentor can significantly smooth the process.
It is clear therefore that building strength in depth both vertically and laterally within and organisation has significant advantages. Flexibility in staff should be a key factoring in hiring and promoting in these organisations.