Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Feb 13 2012   8:50AM GMT

Succession planning by CIOs

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

This term has been talked about for a long time in the corporate circles but has been practiced more in breach than in compliance. This subject has got attention again as a part of risk management process. This essentially speaks about continuance when a key resource in an organization is lost because of his switching job, demise, or due to any other reason.

There have been so many instances of activities coming to a stop because of the CIO leaving the organization and projects resuming only after the new CIO is recruited and is firmly in place. Isn’t this detrimental to the organization and shouldn’t we do something ourselves to mitigate such risks? Irrespective of whether the organization formalizes succession planning or not, CIOs should, in my opinion, take initiative in implementing this good practice in their environments. But just to mirror what happens all around, adoption of this practice by CIOs has been very low; we can perhaps count such CIOs with fingers.

It is probably easier said than done. I too have moved from one organization to another and in spite of giving enough notice of leaving, companies had not been able to address the take-over formalities and had taken several months to recover from the disruption caused. Now let us discuss the subject a little more to understand it fully.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a process of identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available. Taken narrowly, “replacement planning” for key roles is the heart of succession planning.

Succession planning is an organizational process and is one which is driven from the top and usually handled by the Human Resource department. In a few cases, it is an initiative taken up by a department or a business division and endorsed by the management. Isolated initiatives however do not help and fail to deliver the result.

How to make it work

Clear objectives are critical to establishing effective succession planning. These objectives however need to follow some well-established practices, some of these are:

  • Identify those with the potential to assume greater responsibility in the organization
  • Provide critical development experiences to those that can move into key roles
  • Engage the leadership in supporting the development of high-potential leaders
  • Improve employee commitment and retention
  • Meet the career development expectations of existing employees
  • Counter the increasing difficulty and costs of recruiting employees externally

Implementing it at our workplace

The common refrain is, “Why should we take efforts for identifying a successor when the organization itself does not show interest?” Secondly, it is a feeling that grooming a successor would endanger our own position. On the contrary, driving succession planning projects can boost our confidence and may set us up for bigger tasks. For instance, when I had a clear line of succession, the CEO started engaging me in various business-critical projects knowing fully well that IT work could be managed without requiring me to be present in the department all the time. My role therefore got enriched.

The plan need not be limited to CIOs alone and we also need to plan succession for various critical positions in our department. There are times when we are seriously handicapped due to a critical resource deciding to move on giving a short notice. Succession planning at the department level provides a career path to staff and improves our chances of retaining them.

Succession planning is a process which de-risks the organization and need to be practiced. Even if not prevalent in some organizations, CIOs there should take a lead and make it happen in his area of influence.

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