Why Plan for Succession?

 In recent months the headlines have been filled with speculation as to whether the world economies are headed for full blown recession or a ‘slow down’. Whatever the conclusion signals of a financial crisis are here with oil and food prices rising in the US, Europe and in Barbados; also there have been significant Fed rate cuts, seven since September 07 when the rate was 5.25%, bringing the rate to a record low of 2.00%.

Economic movements like this make shareholders nervous as they opt for a ‘wait and see’ approach before determining their next move. In addition, it can trigger a slow down in consumer spending at best or consumer panic at worst. For businesses cost containment and cost management strategies start to come into play, re-defining and re-classifying ‘critical spend’, there are even those who opt for a more drastic approach reviewing headcount numbers.

In uncertain times if a leader is seen to leave an organisation unexpectedly the backlash from a PR perspective alone can be unforgiving, fuelling further uncertainty amongst current and future shareholders and subsequent calls for action. Furthermore it is not altogether unusual to see leaders abandoning ship or even switching allegiances and heading for the competition. But the damage doesn’t end there, invariably what transpires is they convince their star players to join them and they do so with valuable networks and business in tow!

The ability then to be able to smoothly transition another leader into a role recently vacated will do much to quell fears, whilst demonstrating vision and more importantly will likely reduce the overall negative impact to productivity. In essence it is those organisations with an effective succession plan in place that will be able to withstand the rigours of an ever-changing economic landscape.

So what is succession planning and how does it benefit organisations?

Succession planning can be broadly defined as identifying future potential leaders to fill key positions (Source: CIPD).

Succession planning is a critical strategic tool in the fight to attract and retain talent. The benefits are numerous including:

– ensuring the right people are moving into the right roles at the right time
– sending a strong message to employees that the organization prefers to look within to fill critical roles that become vacant
– enabling organisations to identify talented individuals and provide opportunities to develop them for future higher level and/ or broader responsibilities
– promoting greater transparency, openness, fairness and objectivity with respect to discussions centred around performance

Succession planning is not a quick fix to the leadership ails of an organisation. It takes a leader with long-term vision to recognise the benefits of an effective succession planning programme. Great leaders do not just turn up at the doorstep on demand, and, whilst some of your current employees may show a natural aptitude for leading and inspiring others, the development of their leadership potential is just as crucial as the development needs of other employee within the organisation.

Our regional market consists predominantly of small – medium sized enterprises; (SME’s); many of these being small family-run businesses. Succession planning for SME’s is challenging because frequently ‘the Board’, if there is one, consists of family members and there is usually an inherent assumption that someone in the family will take up the reins once the incumbent leader has retired their post. With increased flexibility in the labour market, both international and regional opportunities abound, and these are often more attractive to the potential family successor than inheriting the family business. In such cases organisations are often vulnerable to stagnation as the incumbent leader, perhaps a father hoping his son/ daughter will succeed, often has unrealistic expectations that they may still change their mind so fails to plan for the inevitable.

Even where there is willingness on the part of family members to be considered as a successor the question is ‘are these individuals equipped with the skills necessary for creating and sustaining success’ in what is now a very competitive environment?

So what are the consequences of failure to plan for SME’s? They are left with the dilemma of either: entrusting the running of the business to a General Manager, and subsequently risking the possibility of causing offence to the ‘family’, or acquiescing to family and leaving the organisations in the hands of an ill-equipped family member to satisfy tradition. The remedy to all this is taking a long-term approach to leadership and planning the development of the prospective successors over time. These individuals need to have their skills and understanding of the business, and its history, honed over time, being gradually exposed to all aspects of the business.


That Dirty Word: Work!

These random thoughts express my observations of people, places and issues in the Bahamian workforce.

If you watch the typical Bahamian workplace through the course of the day, you may see something like this.

Jerry and Glenda arrive at around the same time, exactly 9:00 a.m. After settling at their respective desks, Glenda determines that she needs some tea because getting the kids to school on time is such a mad rush in the mornings and with the terrible traffic, there is hardly enough time to get on the road and be on time. So, of course there’s no time for breakfast. Glenda heads to the office kitchen where she finds Gina and Rhonda already having breakfast while the tea kettle boils. She joins the animated conversation about the awesome conference that was going on at Rhonda’s church this week.

Jerry bought a .99 cent breakfast combo, and the stench of tuna salad, steamed ham and grits with butter waft pervasively through the office, leaving a lingering cloud of grease and onions hovering over the cubicles. He has a report he has to complete so he can’t take the time to stop and eat breakfast in the kitchen. “Let me make a call to my Rotary president first. I need to confirm the agenda for tonight’s meeting.” Jerry spends about 20 minutes on the phone with the Rotary president who sends him an email that he asks him to print for the attendees. “Sure,” Jerry says, and makes 50 copies at the copy machine on the second floor. It’s now 9:45 a.m. and neither Jerry nor Glenda has actually started to work, even though they are both at work.

The day continues in the same fashion. I’ve seen some workplaces where the team’s greatest focus was the discussion about where they were going to get lunch from that day. Or the folks that use the lunch hour for other business and bring their lunch back to the office to eat it, using up yet another half hour of the work day. Let’s not forget the holy hour that begins by 2:30 p.m. every afternoon: ‘school pick up’, where every parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother or sister has to pick up at least one child from school. The traffic again at this time is horrendous and the stressful worker may make it back by 3:30 p.m. but by this time, is feeling so drained and unfocused that this time may be spent on sending texts, instant messenger, the telephone or more water cooler chat until 4:30 p.m. Of course by now the witching hour is approaching and as soon as the hour hand moves toward the 5 if not before, the exodus for the exit begins. Do not try to get served at 4:55 p.m. You will be told by that clerk, anxious to leave and frustrated because you have come to block her departure, “We closed.” All accompanied by the customary ‘suck teeth’ and look of disgust.

Yes, it seems as if work is a dirty word for some workers today. Why is it that managers and heaven forbid, customers, get the attitude and rolling eyes and ‘suck teeth’ when they ask people to do what they’re being paid to do? Is that what our workplace has evolved into? What causes this lack of connection in the workplace between the work and the worker?

My observations have been the following:

1. Management
Staff may not be motivated, inspired or held accountable by managers. As a result, they are not interested in the work that they are assigned. Perceived favoritism, manager’s inability to lead or discipline others in the team or the manager’s own lack of knowledge about the job may also contribute to this attitude. It’s almost like school children. When I was in the classroom early in my career, you got the most out of your students if they liked you. If they didn’t like the teacher, they didn’t like the subject. When you engaged the students, they loved the subject. The same seems to be true today at work.

2. Lack of interest in the job
It amazes me how little passion many employees have for their work. It amazes me even more to find that the more people I talk to reveal that they are not doing what they love to do. As they get older and add to their responsibilities, and increase their debt, they feel trapped in a job that pays but does not deliver meaning or worth. Therefore, it becomes a mindless, heartless routine. Dr. Myles Munroe, author and speaker, describes at as ‘people being preoccupied with their preoccupation.’
3. Boredom
The unchallenged worker becomes unoccupied very quickly. Either he has mastered the task or he has not been given enough to do for his skill set. It is important to know the full capabilities of the team so that work can be evenly and fairly distributed according to their interest and ability. Otherwise, the idle worker will only be a distraction to the rest of the team and perhaps even become a discipline problem, be chronically absent, or worse, venturing into entrepreneurship with company resources and on company time…”I don’t have anything else to do, I might as well do what I really want to do” is the cry. I have even seen workers who clock in and leave to go to another job and maybe come back – if you’re lucky.
4. Low skills
Low skill levels can cause an employee to feel overwhelmed by the tasks assigned and the easiest thing to do is not do anything at all. They may hide behind other deadlines, other employees completing their work, or avoiding their manager altogether. There is hope for these, once they admit they need help, and observant managers diligently get to the root of the matter. Additional training and coaching can turn this situation around if handled with patience, genuine interest and care for that employee’s development.
5. Disillusioned about the company
If an employee feels disgruntled, he or she may feel that by being unproductive he or she is hurting the company through their spiteful, passive aggressive actions. And to some degree, they are right. Lack of productivity does affect the bottom line but the catch is when you don’t perform, you can be disciplined or dismissed for your lack of productivity. It is always best to listen to your disgruntled workers. Some complaints may just be from those who feel the company can never do enough to satisfy them but at the root of many a complaint, is the source of a deeper underlying problem in the workplace that may demand an intervention.

While management has tried to put measures in place to decrease distractions for the worker: limited internet access, onsite cafeteria, policies about company phone and cellular phone use, and tougher managers to enforce the policies, productivity is still an issue in many workplaces. Whatever the reason for the unproductive workforce, it is the responsibility of a good HR professional with the cooperation of the entire management team to assess the tenor of the organization to determine what needs to be changed, refined, or improved so that employees are engaged and happy to work rather than the opposite.