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The How, What and Why of Succession Planning

Written By Megha Singh

Sonal Kapur Sinha
Chief Human Resource Officer, Modern Foods

This fireside chat was a brainstorming session focusing on challenges and best practices prevalent among different businesses. Sonal Kapur Sinha, Chief Human Resource Officer, Modern foods, was accompanied by Dhanur Oberoi, Director, and North Region Head, Mercer I  Mettl, who convened the session.

The most suitable time to undertake succession planning was the first question discussed in detail. Emphasizing that planning needed to happen across levels, Sonal shared that she had experienced succession planning three years into her career, so one needed to cover all levels. "You must do that, or you end up playing Jenga, pulling the tiles and hoping the structure doesn't fall," she said, detailing the challenges. She suggested that the process required time and resources, so even if organizations could not afford it, they could have a replacement plan and zero in on the choice of successors.

The conversation proceeded to high potential (Hi-Po) identification and its overlapping nature that often came up with succession planning. Organizations believed that the identification of Hi-Pos was sufficient for succession planning. However, identifying Hi-Pos without preparing them for a position was a futile effort, she believed. 

Dhanur questioned the most apt time for leadership experts to help organizations understand the criticality of the succession planning, and not just the identification of Hi-Pos or individual development plans. Sonal noted that the worst time for succession planning was budgeting, while the best time was business growth, exit, and possible PNL review because that's when leadership was thinking about the people. Experts needed to connect with leaders at the time of growth or when the business was not doing well. 

Creating a model based on the skills required for a subsequent role was not going to work. An effort was needed to support these potential leaders and understand their needs.


The fireside chat was now open to a one-on-one conversation wherein the L&D heads could further exchange ideas with fellow attendees. Whether employees thought that companies needed to invest in their career growth was the question. Sharing how TCS was managing to meet the expectations of its employees, Arun Taneja, L&D Development North Region Head, shared:

 "To retain employees, we map their career concerning the skills that are becoming redundant and also the upcoming ones. The strategy changes depending on the people that the organization wants to retain."

Even as 20% of the workforce was scouting for options to further their growth, it was the other 50% that organizations needed to focus their succession planning efforts on, he believed.

Emphasizing on the need for companies to alter their approach towards succession planning, one of the imminent L&D experts proposed that companies needed to provide employees the opportunity to work on their skill gaps. Employees required to have the liberty to take up training as per their convenience to work on their existing skill gaps, he reasoned. 

Sonal believed that succession planning programs should not be run in vacuums. The successors needed to be duly informed about being recognized as high potentials by the company. The typical mindset of L&D departments was that telling the Hi-Pos was going to push them into leaving the organization. However, Sonal's experience suggested that they didn't.

The failure of development plans to meet the desired outcomes was another challenge that found traction. A consensus was reached on the fact that the successor and the current leader both needed to work together. The problem arose when the development plan did not match up to the skills required for the succession to take place.

It was here when the leader, about to vacate the position, needed to come up with a targeted training plan that aligned closely with the skills required for the role going to be undertaken by the successor. The panelist further emphasized on learning agility while shortlisting the right successor. While keeping in mind the past performance of the Hi-Po, the successor needed to be learning agile for efficient upskilling. An agile individual was a high potential, high performer, highly accountable and adaptable, and one with strong social skills.

One of the L&D experts shared her experience of how her organization conducted succession planning by creating a success profile - for instance, the role of a CHRO. The person needed to have 10 years of experience in business partnering and three years of experience in learning and development. From a competency point of view, the L&D department, along with the business leader, could determine the existing skill gaps. If the Hi-Po did not have the experience of managing his/her environment, the company needed to invest in such a way that the individual's development plan focused on that particular skill.

Topics: News and Events

Originally published December 26 2019,updated April 04 2020

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