While identifying and grooming replacements for key individuals in the organizations is a process mandatory for certainty and resilience of business, as is succession planning, mishandling communications about replacement planning can create unwanted reactions. The key issues are not only about spotting and grooming replacements, but about “when to tell, and how to tell it.” The mode and timing of communication about replacement is critical both in the case of conveying plans to the replacement, as well as to the person who is to be replaced. There are human, legal, and business issues involved.
Too often, in cases where a replacement has been decided upon and being groomed as such to his/her knowledge, perceptible changes in attitude can disrupt workplace harmony, if the replacement starts on premature assertion of authority without acquiring requisite skills or expertise.
Sometimes, communicating replacement plans to the person to be replaced, and planning out the next responsibilities to be handled by that person can make things go astray, if the planned replacement just leaves after finding another job. Now we are left with fulfilling promises to the person, who was to be replaced, without having a successor at hand to shoulder his current responsibilities. So, communication about replacements is something to be managed very cautiously, and has to be managed with all proper checks and balances in place.
Advantages and disadvantages of telling people they are on the chart
Obvious advantages of telling people that they are on a replacement chart are using the knowledge as retention strategy, and to motivate the person. However, obvious disadvantages include providing reason to people to sabotage their superiors, cultivate a “I'm already the boss” attitude, induce low performance if the person feels promotion is guaranteed, and such communication can also dishearten and reduce the motivation of those who are not on the list.
Advantages and disadvantages of not telling people that they are on consideration
The obvious advantages of not communicating replacement strategy means leaving options open to final selection without stepping on anybody's toes, and ensures those who are not chosen retain their motivation. Obvious disadvantages of not telling people that they are scheduled for other responsibilities is that top performers keep searching for other jobs and either burnout or feel an absence of future in continuing on the job, and of course individuals would lack motivation to develop themselves for higher responsibilities.
One simple way out is to make succession planning at every key post a open affair and normal process of business activity to the knowledge of employees and drawing up a “high-potential list” for each key position. While individuals can be told that they are on a list, they can also be told that the list would be periodically reviewed, and nothing is guaranteed except fair play and returns on performances.
While creating replacement strategy it is important to maintain in communications not to promise what you cannot deliver. Business conditions may change without any individual being at fault, and it is good to keep promises to a minimum in communicating about replacements.
William J. Rothwell, The Manager's Guide to Maximizing Employee Potential: Quick and Easy Strategies to Develop Talent Every Day (New York: American Management Association, 2010.
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