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To name or not to name

Prasad Kurian 

Do you think that I should have announced my successor?," asked the senior HR professional. This was my third 'encounter' with this gentleman. "Well, it depends on what you were trying to achieve," I replied in a 'consultant-like' manner. Similar to what had happened during my previous encounters with him, this interaction also prompted me to think more deeply about the underlying issues.

In this particular case, the situation was something like this: This gentleman had created a structure in which many of his direct reports were at the same level - handling roles of similar size. This ensured that all of them could hope for moving into his role and, hence, contributed to their engagement and retention. However, this also ensured that when this gentleman moved on to another role, none of his direct reports were ready to take over from him and, hence, his role had to be filled with an external candidate. With their illusions broken and considering the fact that the situation could repeat a few years later, many of the direct reports started looking for jobs outside the company.

Now, there are multiple levels of issues here. The most basic one is the need for succession planning. There should not be too much controversy here as most of us are likely to agree that succession planning, (especially for critical roles), is a worthwhile endeavour. The second one is the need for a structured approach to develop people who are in the succession plan so that they become ready for the role within a specified time-frame. Here also there should not be much disagreement when it comes to the validity of the need though the implementation is easier said than done, as it involves quite a bit of investment/focus to ensure that the requisite capability building takes place within the timelines.

Things get more complicated when we think about whether or not to tell the people who are in the succession planning xercise that they are part of the succession plan. The problem here is that doing this can create high expectations among the people in the succession plan and also create disengagement (or even attrition) among people who are not in it.

The purpose of including an employee in such a plan is to enable him to develop readiness for the position within an accelerated time-frame. It would work much better if the employee is aware of the purpose for which the development is being undertaken. It helps to tell an employee that he is part of a succession plan, so long as the communication is done in the right manner. This would also avoid the risk of developing an employee towards a position that he is not interested in. Again, this would prevent the unfortunate scenario in which such an employee leaves the organisation because he thought that he was not being developed for the next level role.

However, the communication has to be done in the right manner. The communication should mention that the company sees the potential in him to develop towards the particular position and that the company will provide accelerated learning opportunities to enable him to develop readiness for the same. It has to be made clear that no promise is being made regarding the time frame in which the employee will be moved to the target position. It should be mentioned that there could be multiple people in the succession plan for the position and that the actual move to the position will depend on business requirement.

The author is Prasad Kurian, an HR expert.

Re-printed with permission. Link: http://

First Published: Mon, September 29 2014. 00:07 IST