It happens in the best of organizations: an employee abruptly quits, another employee retires and someone is diagnosed with an illness requiring a long-term absence from the workplace. Managers struggle as they try to grapple with work in progress and realigning employees so that all the jobs get done. The result? Stress, stress and more stress!
However, it doesn’t need to be this way because there are solutions that can be considered. These solutions include what human resource professionals call workforce and succession planning. Workforce planning is usually shorter-term through which management identifies and analyzes their employee needs in terms of the number of positions, the skills and experience required, and the timing of recruitment initiatives. It’s all about building business intelligence on your workforce needs, creating a personnel budget and a plan for recruitment and selection for an approximate three-year window.
Part of a workforce planning strategy is applying a tactic called cross-training. This requires employees to be trained in other job tasks so, when needed, they can easily provide cover for a short time so business runs smoothly and they can recover from unexpected disruptions quickly. Cross-training also helps employees understand and value the jobs their colleagues do, which leads to improved teamwork. Morale can be increased because employees are learning new skills and can be recognized for their enhanced value to the employer.
Succession planning, on the other hand, is usually longer-term and consists of examining market changes and workforce implications, plus examining the structure of the current workforce, especially with a view of who is on the retirement path and what the time frame is. Succession planning enables managers to visually see the level of availability of employees that are capable of taking on new roles when the opportunity arises. It provides managers with a three-to-five-year window to help them provide training and work experiences that will enable designated employees to take the reins of a new job.
There are also several development tactics within a succession plan that will assist employees to get ready for the next step in their career. These include:
Developmental transfers — leadership today requires a broad base of expertise and experience rather than being a specialist. For instance, a finance person could be transferred to a human resource role where they can take additional training and gain experience in the people side of the business. And, since financial skills are critical to today’s leadership, a developmental transfer to build up those skills is also a good idea. Review developmental opportunities carefully and ensure you are building skills for the long-term.
Special projects — every organization has the opportunity for special projects both big and small. For those individuals needing to build on their management skills, taking on the role of project leader is a good developmental opportunity. Typically, special projects will help to build skills in recruiting team members, creating a project plan, managing a budget and interacting with various stakeholders both inside and external to an organization.
Mentorship — if possible, assign a mentor or coach to those seeking developmental roles, especially until a role opportunity arises. This is also an opportunity for a seasoned professional to share their skill sets and provide career advice. Mentors and/or coaches can be within or external to an organization. Mentorship is particularly important for first-time leaders.
Educational leave — sometimes development is better served by having an individual attend an intensive training program. Universities frequently over seven to 10 day, onsite, intensive programs where individuals would mix and learn from others at the same level who would bring different business experience. If this is not possible, then at the very least, employees should be guided toward local educational programs.
Secondments — secondment opportunities are frequently used within the public service, but there is no reason why they can’t be applied to the general workplace, particularly if there are different locations. A secondment is simply "lending" an employee to a different department and/or organization for the purposes of a temporary assignment. These arrangements range from three months to one year. The employee is typically paid by their own employer.
Volunteer leadership — senior leaders need to encourage developing managers to join not-for-profit groups and/or professional associations where their on-the-job experience will serve to develop new skill sets. Individuals will meet new people, experience new environments, increase their exposure to decision-making styles and experience new and uniquely challenging situations. At the same time, all of these new skills can be applied right away at home.
Turnaround roles — assigning a developing manager into a "turnaround" situation can be challenging, but it is a great opportunity to teach about change management and building new systems and structures. Roles such as this are dicult but will also help individuals learn to gain a sense of toughness as they balance the needs of the organization versus the psychological needs of the employees.
Corporate planning — a manager needs to know the big picture and needs to know how their work and department fits into the overall corporate goals. Therefore, placing an individual in a corporate-planning job is a good way to help build strategic-planning skills and understand how all the business units need to be aligned. The role will develop creativity and can include building skills, such as workforce and succession planning, as they will need to create different scenarios for discussion.
Task forces — developmental individuals assigned to a task force will typically be exposed to managing on the y under stressful situations. This could involve investigating the purchase of a new building, downsizing the workforce or merging with another organization. Individuals will work with higher-level key stakeholders where political acumen and negotiation skills can be developed.
Managing new initiatives — assigning a developmental manager to leading a new product brand or startup of some kind means creating all the systems needed to bring the project to fruition. It includes all the elements of an organization, such as the development of a new product or service, creating an organization structure, establishing the financial arrangements and organizing all aspects of human resources.
No matter what strategy you take to develop your managers, be sure to create a succession replacement map for all your job roles. Identify up to three people for each position and label them as ready now, ready in one year and/or ready in five years. Once this analysis and documentation is complete, you will know the resources you have available, what training and experience timeline is required and how you can fill roles as they become vacant.
Life in any organization changes as employees quit, retire and/or leave an organization under other circumstances. Don’t be caught unaware and unprepared.