Setting aside philosophical discussions of whether humans are "assets" or the motive force of your organization, making sure you have the right human with the right skills in the right place at the right time is what succession planning is all about.
Participants of the May 18 SIG event on Succession Planning started the morning by discussing how they use succession planning in their workplace. One participant said that they were looking at it because they were opening a new plant. Another talked about their aging workforce and the risk they were facing losing knowledge when workers retired. Another uses succession planning to foster employee development.
Participants agreed that the first step in a succession plan is to establish what skills are needed and who had them. There are many tools to analyze this question. Nine-block analysis is one method (that was explained and illustrated very well by one of the members present). Other companies use their performance reviews as the basis of their succession planning. Another option is to ask the incumbent about skills and traits required in their replacement.
The group spent quite a bit of time discussing personal development plans. They agreed that the key to these plans was to continually provide training opportunities. It wasn’t enough to provide training when an opening was about to come up; the training had to be continuous so that when an opening came up the employee was ready. Employee awareness was also important. Employees needed to be told that training was available, that they were welcome to take it, and that it had purpose for them. Employees naturally wonder “What’s in it for me?” and employers must recognize that question and be prepared to answer it with realistic timelines and stages for advancement.
Participants identified two options for ensuring smooth transitions between employees. The first is to hire in employees as needed. However, even when positions are advertised internally, there is often resistance. Hiring-in also changes the culture (which may be one of the desired results). The other option, of course, is to build the skills internally. This seems to work better when you hire for attitude and then train for skills. Starting new employees on the floor is also helpful. In some workplaces, this may require a shift in culture.
There are problems with the building-skills approach as well. In some cases employees only want to do what they’re doing now and resist further training. Sometimes an employee feels that they have nothing they need to learn. There could be problems with personality conflicts, individuals may be poor trainers, and the trainees may be trained in shortcuts and not in standard work. Despite all these negatives, building skills internally seems to be the process followed by most of the members present.
So what are some of the best practices exhibited by our members? Well, standard work is very important. Starting all new employees on the floor and moving them around to different positions is also a common tactic. Those members with ISO and other certifications found the processes involved in the certification to be very helpful when training their employees. Finally, there was general agreement that it was important to keep everyone involved—both incumbents and up-and-coming employees.
There was quite a bit more discussion, on topics such as the training abilities of current incumbents, the impact of unions, and the types of positions for which succession planning is appropriate. Please join us at the next SIG to add to the discussion and take home all the details.
Thank you very much to our host, Morgan Advanced Materials Canada Inc.