Succession Planning. Today.

A conflux of generations, workforce mobility and difficulty in recruiting for pivotal positions are a few of the succession management challenges facing organizations today.

When I think of succession management, an image of water flowing over the edge of a dam comes to mind. Organizations take a swipe at succession planning with leadership development, internship, educational debt reduction, or mentor programs. They talk about the potential leaders at morning reports or one-on-one meeting. The discussions and progams, on their own, produce "potential" into the flow of an organization, but to what end?

Is it really succession management? It is not.  

Succession management is a planful, organizational wide program (or system) that ensures an organization can deliver against capabilities and knowledge needs. Succession management may include leadership, internship, educational debt reduction, or mentor programs - but it is much more.

This is the workforce of 2010 and our challenges are unique. Getting on top of this takes technology, it takes complexity, and it is, well, unprecedented. Simply put, the succession management challenges organizations face today are very different than the challenges organizations faced in the 1950s.

Or are they? If you want to understand where you are going, you have to know where you came from.


With this in mind, it was fitting to kick off The Conference Board Succession Management Conference, with an historical perspective. Peter Cappelli, Director for the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, and keynote speaker for took us on a very engaging tour of history and talent management.

He put it all in perspective when he noted that "all the cool things in succession management were invented in the 1950s." What? Yes, products of the 1950s workforce challenges, there are a few of the still used by organizations today: exit interviews, length of service recognition, physical examinations, "hit by a bus" scenarios, and 18 month rotational assignments, to name a few.

Presenters from the Center for Creative Leadership, Korn/Ferry International, Honeywell Aerospace, PDI Ninth House, Prudential Financial, SAE Systems, Proctor and Gamble, Microsoft, New York Life, The New York Times Company, and The FutureWork Institute presented their learnings, lessons and insights in succession management gained through research, exploration, and hands-on program development, .

By far, the most impactful quote for me was from Jane McNair, VP Organization Effectiveness and Learning, Honeywell Aerospace when she said, "We know our talent really well." Listening to her speak, I have not doubt.

Succession management is not a shelf-program, it is high touch and hands-on, and that consistently came through loud and clear in all of the presentations. Other themes emerging for me are:

  • Keep it simple
  • High potentials are human too
  • The first 2 years of employment = critical touch point
  • Leadership support, and engagement, is essential
  • Best development experiences are low, or no, cost and involve real work

Promising "innovative practices that get results," The Conference Board delivered.

Now, onto Day 2 with Succession Management from the CEOs Point of View, NeuroLeadership, Developing Successors in Emerging Markerts, and Technology.

If you are attending the conference with me, leave a comment below with your take aways from Day 1. 

Note: I attended this conference as a guest of The Conference Board to provide my honest assessment of the conference and share information I deemed relevant, valuable and of interest to my readers.