MT Masterclass: Succession planning

What is it? The graveyards are filled with indispensable men, it is sometimes said. Even if the remark is ironic, it reminds us that managers who are here today may be gone tomorrow - to a rival business, into retirement, or to the great meeting-room in the sky. Sensible businesses plan for these eventualities. They maintain a 'pipeline of talent'. Younger managers ('high potentials') can be given stretching assignments to speed up their development and help them acquire experience. They'll then be better prepared when gaps appear. What could go wrong?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Where did it come from? In the good old days, we had careers. We worked for businesses that could be represented on organisational charts. Life seemed predictable. When Charles Handy was a junior manager at Shell, he was told what he would be doing, where and when, over the next 30 years. Handy eventually ran away, appalled (bet the succession plan at Shell hadn't allowed for that). But, gradually, time-serving started to lose some of its power as a qualification for promotion. Ageism emerged too, and with it the idea that some jobs were really 'a young person's game'. Careers got shorter, and succession plans were torn up.

Where is it going? Now, firms tend to follow a twin-track policy on succession planning. Key staff - 'talent' - is nurtured. These are the people in pivotal positions who you really don't want to lose. The rest? Well... good luck to them. But the employee can have the last laugh here. Aided by online social networks, such as LinkedIn, Plaxo and Facebook, people can tout themselves to future employers. They can create their own succession plan. After all, employers have been telling them for some time that there is 'no job for life any more'. Now you too can be a person with a plan.

Fad quotient (out of 10):

Slipping at 5.

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