Thinking ahead is a cardinal rule of business. In addition to monitoring the daily operations of your business, you need to think about the future. And, as difficult as it may be, it’s important to envision the day when you no longer will be in charge. For successful organisations faced with demanding leadership requirements in a changing and competitive business environment, a succession planning process may be the most important human resource management investment the company can make.
The defining characteristic of a successful organisation is increasingly recognised as human, rather than financial, geographical or production-based. This, together with the increased competition for management talent, is presenting human resources departments with new and challenging issues.
HR teams must attract, recruit and retain knowledge and skills, not just fill jobs with generic people. They need to track knowledge and competencies even more effectively and identify where gaps arise between current and future requirements. They have to work closely with business managers to understand how business strategy translates into the skills and knowledge needed. And they must have the confidence to retain both senior management and other employees.
A critical HR activity will be to develop a culture of continuous learning and growth for both individuals and the company as a whole. This is where a company-wide succession planning process will become an essential organisational asset. This process, which may or may not need to be supported by a computerised succession planning information system, can provide benefits that go beyond the traditional reason for succession planning, which has always been to assure the continuity of leadership at the top.
Succession planning is often described as “career planning at the top”, an extension of the principles and procedures that the company uses to merge the career aspirations of individual managers with organisational goals and management needs. Both career planning and succession planning are (or should be) “developmentally oriented”, that is focused on the long-term development of managers for future positions, as well as specific activities such as training, education and job-development.
However, because succession planning typically focuses on a few key leadership positions that are considered critical, and because these positions often have different requirements than other management jobs, succession planning usually requires a separate or additional set of “position requirements”. The skills and talents required to lead key function, business units or the organisation as a whole are not necessarily the same as those needed at intermediate or specialised management levels. For example, the job descriptions of data procession managers seldom call for a understanding of global economics or competitive marketing strategies.
Consider the following questions:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to think seriously about implementing succession planning
Effective succession planning and leadership development has to be based on clear understanding of the business strategy. This in turn determines the kind of people you need for effective leadership both now and in the future.
These requirements must then be mapped against information about individual employees. In addition to biographical detail, technical and professional skills, you should look at track core competencies – fundamental human skills and attitudes – and knowledge. This will be particularly powerful if you can also identify which competencies are required for current and future positions.
Figure 2 below illustrates the Succession Management Process developed for Aon Singapore and Asia.
The process distinctly illustrates three important components. Position Requirements are one of the three components that define a succession planning process and may require extensive data that is applicable only to key positions in the organisation. In the case of Aon, the key positions and position holders are recorded in a database, named RED book.
Like most organisations, Aon use competency models to assess employees (Figure 2) by using a set of criteria to identify internal candidates who match a position but may not have been nominated as a successor. Once candidates have been identified, information is recorded in the database, named BLUE Book. The potential successors will be assessed using the Competency Profiler tool to augment the competency with executive profiles, educational background, performance ratings, and other relevant information to assist in determining who to include in the succession pool.
“People Data” are the second component of succession planning. This step is usually more extensive than career planning because upper-level positions are more critical to business success and more should be known about managers who may ascend to these positions. For example, a career planning system might incorporate performance appraisal data that rates a manager’s performance on a scale of one to five. Data on potential company leaders should be more extensive and detailed, explaining the reasons for the rating and providing an overall context for the appraisal.
The third component in defining succession planning is Development Activities. They link people and their qualifications with the requirements of key positions. Developmental activities are also likely to include different, and sometimes unique, types of information and activities beyond those in a career planning process. For example, a career plan targeted at domestic marketing positions may not need to include education or experience with foreign governments or offshore production. However, a CEO candidate or Regional Marketing vice president would need this experience and/or knowledge.
An effective succession plan enables a company to identify and prepare the right people for the right positions at the right time and to identify, secure and grow a company’s knowledge base. In addition to building and securing company’s knowledge base, succession planning helps organisations to:
Becoming a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt – and to a certain degree a Green Belt – is a major career move and should be considered carefully. There are not only the Pros; there are plenty of Cons. For you, it will definitely mean putting in more time. On top of someone’s normal job, the Black Belt is required to spend a considerable amount of time on the new commitment. Your additional time will not be rewarded financially at the outset. Your organisation will not be willing to put much money in something that is new and has not paid back yet.
You will work with teams whom you – most likely – have no power over. If you cannot convince them with your knowledge, skills and especially your attitude, you will be running your Lean Six Sigma projects on your own. The same applies for the stakeholders, i.e. the process owners you want to help to improve their processes. If you think they need you, think again. When you appear in their office, you, basically, convey the message that there is something wrong with their processes. They will not be overly enthusiastic to see you … until you show that you are worth spending precious time with and lending scarce resources to. Interacting with, influencing and communicating with all levels in your organisation will be one of your key responsibilities. If your best friend is your computer whom you prefer to interact with, this job is not for you.
Although there is no need to be or become a statistician in order to do the Black Belt job, it is still about dealing with data, about data analytics. Collecting, plotting and analysing them – sometimes with advanced statistical tools – in order to draw conclusions for improvements is one of your foremost tasks. If you already get scared when your boss asks you to produce a histogram, you should consider giving this Black Belt adventure a miss.
As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, you will not be able to show results short-term. Be prepared that you – and your stakeholders – need to have some patience until you, with your team, get to the real root cause of problems, develop effective solutions and enough data to back them up. If it would be easy to do this, it would essentially mean that the process owner does not know what he is doing. Fortunately, we do not have many of those. Unfortunately for you, you need to learn about the process, catch up with the process owner’s and stakeholder’s knowledge before you can be of any help. You will need time to study what you want to improve.
If you are frustrated now, do not give up yet. There are some benefits, too.
Being a Black Belt is one of the most interesting tasks you can think of. You learn more about a virtually unlimited variety of processes and issues in your organisation than anyone else. This demanding job rotation, i.e. rotation from one project to the next, has numerous rewards. One of them is the growing familiarity with your organisation, with your colleagues at all levels, with customers and their needs and with your suppliers and partners.
Contrary to an induction programme, you will learn “at the heart” of the processes. You will learn what makes your organisation tick – or struggle.
By doing so, you will be able to contribute to the organisation’s strategy – if they take it seriously. You will do what matters and you will help moving your organisation to the next level, to prepare them for tomorrow. This makes your new job highly visible. More people in the organisation will know about you and what you do. Especially your management will recognise and challenge you. From time to time, you will get the limelight you can use for your personal development. Before these occasions, you will be honing your proficiency in presenting to the management. You will learn how to understand and speak their language and you will grow to be convincing in your pitch.
Even though learning will become your daily bread, it is just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is improving your organisation’s performance to satisfy customer needs profitably. The skills you learn in theory and especially by practising are not only applicable to your Lean Six Sigma projects. Over time, you will make use of them in all facets of your professional and even your private life. Who says that powerful influencing skills cannot be useful when dealing with your teen kids? It works for me.
We need a robust and systematic tool to select and train future leaders for our company. Personally, I do not know that much about Six Sigma, but what I have read so far was about focusing on customer requirements, managing and improving processes, changing the company’s culture, encouraging people and, last but not least, making money. This is exactly the job of our leaders.
Michael Malaghan. President, Learning Technologies
Although, there is usually no pay rise or other monetary award at the beginning, you certainly increase your own value over time. Your organisation will definitely recognise and reward you for this – or another organisation will. Your Black Belt certificate adds more value to your CV than many other papers you used to attach. This certificate is not only about theoretically mastering new skills. More importantly, this certificate testifies the application of these skills to generate value to the business and your customers. You will not only be seen as someone who has studied a new theory. You will be seen as someone “who has done it”.
In many organisations who practise Lean Six Sigma, previous Black Belts and especially Master Black Belts have taken over key positions. If you were able to deliver results as a Black Belt, you should not be surprised to find your name well positioned in the succession plan of your organisation.
Becoming a Black Belt is not for everyone. More important than statistical knowledge are personal traits such as openness and conscientiousness combined with some degree of extroversion. If you decide that you fit the bill and you go for it you should do it wholeheartedly and you will certainly benefit a great deal from it.
If someone asked you to join the Black Belt training and take over a project, it is usually a good thing. It usually means someone cares about you, wants to develop you and trusts that you are worth it. Do not forgo this opportunity; it may not come again so soon.
Your decision to become a Black Belt has the potential to change your life … as it did for me.
A couple of years ago, I was meeting the President of an Asian multi-national mid-sized service company for a Six Sigma Training on Saipan, a nice sunny pacific island south-east of Japan. Together with a colleague we were sitting at the beach, wearing swimming suits and preparing the next days session whilst getting sun-tanned. When the President arrived – he was in shorts and ugly slippers! – we had a casual briefing for the Leadership Team session and the Staff Awareness Sessions we were about to run during that week.