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I recently saw an article on the Gartner blog titled, “Implement Succession Planning, Not Replacement Planning.” It’s a good read about improving succession planning processes, so check it out when you have a moment. But succession planning and replacement planning are not the same thing. So, while I agree with the author that organizations should have succession plans, don’t dismiss the value of a replacement plan.
A replacement plan identifies “backups” for positions. Traditionally, it has focused on top-level roles, but it can be done for any position in the organization. Replacement planning is often mentioned in conjunction with succession planning because it identifies individuals who can assume roles at some point in the future and shows how ready they are for that position. But replacement planning doesn’t have to be defined as a subset of succession planning.
Having individuals – whether they are regular full-time, part-time, or contractor – identified as backups just makes good business sense for a variety of reasons. We’re regularly hearing stories about “The Great Resignation” and employee turnover. And as much as we don’t like to mention it, employees can become unexpectedly seriously ill or have an accident and be unable to work. The organization needs to find someone to take over their responsibilities—even if it’s only temporarily.
Since organizations don’t always get to control the timing and circumstances, having a staffing backup plan (aka replacement plan) makes sense. Recruiters will want to have a say in how that plan is developed.
If your organization has a formal succession plan, there might be replacements identified. Or it could be an added step in the existing process. Even if you’re using talent pools instead of a succession plan for employee development, replacement planning can add value. Here are four steps to consider as part of a replacement planning activity:
Step 1. Identify key positions and the critical skills for each position. While every job is important, certain roles within the organization would significantly impact the business if left open for a long period. Using your average time to fill as your benchmark, identify which positions must be filled in less time. Ideally, we’d like every job to be filled quickly, but identify those that must be a priority. Those key positions are a place to start. And you should have much of this information from your workforce plan and staffing analysis.
Then for each position,list the qualities that anyone holding this position must have. This isn’t a wish list. Remember this is a replacement plan. If someone had the basic skills, then they could learn the other knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the position.
Step 2. Assess the skills of current employees and match their skills to the list of critical skills. Again, your workforce plan and/or staffing analysis should contain some of this information. If not, you can obtain it in the form of training records, performance reviews, coaching feedback, and 9-box grids. It might also be helpful to look at the skills of freelancers and consultants who currently partner with the organization or former employees who might be interested in returning.
This step is when organizations might be tempted to think that backup employees are currently in the department—for instance, the accounting manager is the obvious backup for the accounting director. However, a recent transfer might be interested in returning to their former department. Keep the planning activity focused on skills, not current job titles.
Step 3. Pay attention to jobs that don’t have matches and develop a plan to address the gaps. It’s possible that this exercise might surface some jobs that need immediate attention—meaning there is no immediate replacement available. While that’s not a place anyone wants to be, it’s better to learn this information during a planning activity than when you’re trying to fill an opening. And this is one of the reasons that talent acquisition professionals need to be a part of the conversation so there are no surprises.
Create a plan to address gaps including development programs, mentoring, coaching, special projects, and contingent staffing. Or a combination of all these programs. With replacement planning, the organization doesn’t have to identify a single replacement. Use talent pools to develop transferable skills for many positions.
Step 4. Evaluate the plan. On a regular basis evaluate the plan to make sure the company’s needs can still be met. For key positions, the individuals currently holding those roles can be tasked with helping to identify their replacement and train them. This goal could be rolled up into their performance review.
One other aspect to consider when evaluating the plan is how replacement positions will be filled. Another reason to have talent acquisition in the room. For example, if a sales manager leaves today, the company has identified someone to replace them. But what about the new opening that’s been created? Obviously, there’s a chain reaction that takes place and the organization needs to have a recruiting plan to address it.
Replacement plans do one other thing. They give the organization a sense of the investment they will need to make should a backup be necessary. Whether it’s temporary or long term, employees asked to assume greater responsibilities need support. Regular replacement planning activities make the organization keenly aware of the support the affected employees will need to be successful.
While organizations are working hard to hire, engage, and retain the best talent, it would be naïve to think employees never leave. Replacement plans provide the organization with the comfort that a last-minute resignation, retirement, or employee illness will not leave the company at a talent disadvantage.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Los Angeles, CA21