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There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Set Up Succession Planning

HR consultants offer their thoughts on the best—and worst—practices when it comes to succession planning.

December 2, 2011

HR consultants offer their thoughts on the best—and worst—practices when it comes to succession planning.

• Plan early: The Walt Disney Co. approved a contact to extend Robert Iger as chief executive through March 2015 and then made him executive chairman until June 2016, saying the board's action provides "an effective, seamless succession. "Getting out as far as they are is definitely a best practice," says Jay Scherer, managing partner at human resources consultancy BPI group. "Advance planning, even three to five years, provides time to develop people, time to ensure that there is good board involvement and enough time for an orderly transition."

Involve the predecessor, when possible: An exiting CEO should explain business-planning processes, identify key challenges that the incumbent likely will face and even share unfulfilled dreams of what they would have liked to do, says Julie Redfield, managing consultant of the people and operation excellence group at PA Consulting. "The person leaving is going to have knowledge about how things work, some of which simply can't be documented, and insights that no one else is going to be able to share with the person coming in," Redfield says.

Use objective measures to assess readiness: "If you're only relying on the person's manager's opinion of them, you run a strong risk that you're not using good data to make a decision," Redfield says.

• Selecting a clone or an antithesis: "If the process isn't as thorough as it needs to be, these sometimes are tendencies," says BPI's Scherer.

Creating a horse race: "You'll have people aligning themselves to one or the other potential candidates, and that becomes a distraction from doing what everyone needs to be doing and that's doing their jobs," Scherer says. Even worse: You likely will lose the person you don't select, driving away top talent.

Bringing an outsider as chief executive: They often fail because they don't understand the culture and how things get done in the organization, says PA Consulting's Redfield.