Succession plans in business?

Two seemingly unconnected news items have been drawing my attention this month, and between them I think they have much to tell us about hiring.

Those things are: Prince Harry, and the Google layoffs.

Work with me here.

The thread that runs between them is succession planning. In both instances, what brings the situation to the news is that succession planning has gone wrong. 

In one sense, Prince Harry is a triumph of succession planning – as he’s trumpeted to the world this year, he’s the “spare” – the guarantee that someone will sit on the throne when Charles III is no more. But really, the way he’s hit the headlines is a dire warning to companies who want to stockpile talent. His frustration at having no real role is palpable. His sense of rejection at being kept in reserve for a very unlikely scenario is evident in his anger. People are people – you can’t keep one back for a rainy day. They need a real role and a sense of purpose.

Over at Google, meanwhile, a hugely profitable company has let 12000 people go at the drop of a hat, presumably in search of yet more profit. But what’s really happening here is a correction to some extraordinary over-hiring in 2022. The same has happened at Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify and others: they are, in net terms, significantly higher in headcount than they were in 2020. It’s just that they’ve overhired and then pulled back. Again – you can’t just hoover up talent and try and keep it in reserve. People need gainful employment. (They also need to be treated with respect and dignity, but that’s another blog).

In almost every case, when a company is hiring, there are other people – people already in the organisation – to consider.

And this is where planning roles and succession planning come together. 

Of course there’s a need to bring in external capability. Of course the fact that someone works in an organisation doesn’t mean they can do every new job. But with care, the people who are brought in can generate opportunity for those who are already there. They can add the expertise that allows cross training. They can build the teams that create promotion opportunities and career paths. Technical people whose skills are in sunsetting products can be moved across into newer technologies and replacement platforms.

Planning hiring around a workforce development strategy can engender genuine, long lasting loyalty. It means that excellent people need not be discarded just because you’ve let their skills atrophy.

And this kind of planning means that new external hires arrive in an organisation where morale is high; where people are valued; where there is a culture of development and progression – and so they’re likely to stay.

People who feel they’ve been overlooked, discarded or ignored get angry and bitter, and who can blame them. Maybe they won’t write a best selling book denouncing you. But they’ll probably trash you on Glassdoor. And aside from the reputational damage, think about the talent you’re wasting.

It costs a lot to find and bring in great new people. It costs even more to lose the ones you’ve got.


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