Regenerating Current Management into Future Management

CHRO:  Through Time and Space

“We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay. That’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”

~The 11th Doctor~

No other show on television is a better example of succession planning than the British science fiction series Doctor Who.

Let me explain.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about an alien, a Time Lord, called The Doctor. The Doctor travels through time and space in a ship called the TARDIS. That’s an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space.

Time Lords look like humans, but have two hearts and an uncanny ability to avoid death. Now this next point is important. If a Time Lord is near death, the person can regenerate to heal themselves, but the process has an unwanted consequence. During regeneration, the person changes physically… meaning the person doesn’t have the same face, or sometimes, the same gender.

There is some history behind the regeneration concept.

In the early days of the show, The Doctor was played by famed actor William Hartnell. After Hartnell got sick, showrunners were faced with the possibility of ending the program. Instead, they decided to change actors, but how to do that? Easy. They created the concept of regeneration. When it was time for Hartnell to step aside, The Doctor regenerated into the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, and the rest is history.

Succession planning works the very same way. HR professionals understand upper managers and C-Suite members will eventually retire and that means new leaders must step into those roles.

During IQPC’s Chief Human Resources Officer Exchange (CHRO) in Phoenix, the topic was debated by a panel of HR professionals. It was moderated by Debbie Anstine, Vice President of Client Effectiveness for Perceptyx. Panelists for the debate included Glen Goodman, Vice President of Human Resources for the Sabre Corporation, Courtney Buckle, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Acquisition with Publicis Groupe, and Larry Brand.

Brand, who is the Chief Human Resources officer for Elkay Manufacturing, sat down with HR Exchange Network editor Mason Stevenson to go in detail about succession planning and all of the issues related to the topic.

Mason Stevenson and Larry Brand Talking

Click picture to watch the interview.

Put simply, Brand said the purpose of succession planning is to “fulfil the future needs of your company.” He said under the type of market climate companies are dealing with today, it’s much more difficult to hire outside talent for key positions.

So where to begin? Start with the current workforce.

Review Process

HR professionals need to know who is working for the company. This isn’t a roll call like one might see in a 1st grade classroom, but more of a detailed review of talent and their capabilities. Every position from the bottom to the top must be a part of the review.

HR then must decide which talent should be in line for each of the roles needing a succession plan.

Developing the Succession Talent

Once talent is identified, individual talent development plans must be formed. Those plans will draw heavily on their strengths and weaknesses. Note: HR professionals should focus less on current strengths and more on weaknesses. Plans should compliment strengths and supplement weaknesses. Some key questions to ask might include:

  • What skills or knowledge does the candidate need in order to successfully perform the duties of the role they are in line to assume?
  • How does the candidate interact with his or her peers?
  • Does the candidate embody the company culture?
  • Does the candidate have the appropriate experience?
  • How does the candidate lead?

Another question must be asked, not of the candidate, but of the company: should the candidate be informed he or she is in line to succeed a senior level or C-Suite official. It’s dependent on each company to answer that question.

In any case, the process of succession planning is not a short one.

For HR professionals, it’s very detailed-oriented and long. The best case scenario would be for the outcome to fall between two and four years. Hastened processes, for instance in the situation of an unexpected opening, will be fraught with issues.

Other problems could include whether or not the candidate wants to move ahead.

No doubt the talent will have some key questions of their own:

  • Am I ready?
  • How will this impact my work/life balance?
  • What will the process include?

Levels of Responsibility

While HR will certainly be responsible for much of the planning, the reality is the process must be cross-generational. In fact, the majority of the responsibility falls on the baby boomers.

Boomers must be involved if success is the goal.

Boomer Businessman talking to a Millennial Businessman

“This more falls on the Boomers and people like myself in the HR leadership role to figure out how we get the next generation ready than it is the next generation somehow trying to change themselves so that they fit the mold that we want,” Brand said. “Because that mold is broken. We have different leadership expectations coming and that’s the work our company is doing right now to get ready for that generation.”

Some suggestions on how to accomplish this include:

  • Intergenerational cohorts
  • Educational opportunities between C-Suite officials and succession talent
  • Leadership programs

The most important piece of this is making sure current leaders have the opportunity to relay their knowledge and experiences to those up-and-coming candidates. Senior leaders, for the most part, are where they are because they have succeeded and failed in previous positions. While future leaders must be allowed to succeed and fail on their own, part of the preparation process is learning from those whom have gone before.

Connecting the Dots

While it is a long process, succession planning is absolutely critical to the continued and future success of a company. Knowing where you’ve been is just as important as knowing where you are and where you’re going.

With that, the quote leading this piece and the analogy of The Doctor comes into focus. Succession planning is all about regenerating the role with a new person when the need arises, and in that way, leaders and companies can avoid demise and insure success.

Larry Brand is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Elkay Manufacturing. He is also a member of the HR Exchange Network Advisory Board Member.