Strategic Succession Planning – Part Two: Critical Position Identification

In the first article in this series, we discussed the differences between replacement planning and strategic succession planning and identified capability gaps between your organization’s current capabilities and those you need. In this second article, we will discuss the process used to identify critical positions for which you will need to succession plan.

Recall: It’s Capability, not the Incumbent, You Must Plan For.

Most organizations are structured to deliver capability. The Accounting Department is designed at the highest level to provide a capability in support of the larger organization’s operations – as are most of the other divisions. If your organization is like most, the lower level organizational chart has developed over time – when Joe retired, Lisa assumed part of Joe’s responsibilities and so did Tom… or Joe is so capable that over time he has assumed greater responsibility than intended when he was hired. This is very common and leads to an organization that is shaped the way it is because the workforce “ended up there” rather than an organization designed around capability and associated identified critical positions that is conducive to strategic succession planning.

So what is a “Critical Position?”

First of all, let’s define the term “critical position.” A critical position is a position with responsibilities that cannot either be distributed amongst peers or assumed by the supervisor without operational impacts if the position becomes vacant. This is a key concept for succession planning – you have critical people in non-critical positions. Think about Joe. When he retired, his duties had to be distributed between two peers. Joe was a workhorse, he was an incredibly important part of your team – he was not in a critical position. This is absolutely essential for succession planning – you are not going to succession plan for Joe’s position. If however, Joe had a role that was essential to the operation, for example he is your internal quality assurance manager – a role that cannot be assumed by the supervisor without eliminating two levels of review and for which he has no peers, then his position is critical… and you will succession plan for it. This is a step that will require solid back and forth, candid discussion and a self-critical mindset. Start from the assertion that no positions are critical and then work to prove that assertion incorrect.

People versus Position.

Ensure that all involved parties understand that there will be critical people in non-critical positions… and you will probably find non-critical people in newly identified critical positions. This second circumstance likely will correlate with a perceived capability gap. Without effective communication and solid unflinching leadership this step can feel extremely personal – we identify with our position in a company and no one wants to be labeled as non-critical. If you are not sure how hard this can be, start from the assertion that Deputies are non-critical… by definition, they are there to support the Director and while they off-load substantial work, there should be nothing they do that cannot be assumed by the Director or delegated amongst the subordinates.

Once you have identified your critical positions, you will need to step back again from current staffing and derive a list of attributes an ideal candidate in the position should have. This will link to the role of the position in the organization and your capability requirements you created in the earlier steps of the process. These attribute lists will serve many functions for your organization.

The attributes for each position, which link to your overall capability requirements, will facilitate employee development in support of succession planning for your critical positions.

So far you have created a menu of organizational capabilities and identified your organization’s critical positions and the associated attributes of ideal candidates for those positions. In the next and final article in the series, you will compare your organization’s capability requirements and its current capabilities, identify gaps against the identified critical position attributes and begin the process to mitigate those gaps.

Leave a Reply