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Effective Succession Management Ensures Continued IT Success

To optimize how organizations attract, develop and retain great IT people, it is critical to evaluate what happens at the line levels of IT and how organizations source, screen, onboard and manage their workforce. TEKsystems’ IT Talent Management Survey series provides insight into what’s on the mind of the IT leaders and IT workers alike.

Opening night on Broadway represents years, months and hours of auditions, rehearsals, script changes and costume fittings. Assembling the right cast is not an easy task, and the director must choose wisely. The profitability and longevity of the show hinges on the performances of the lead actors, and with so much at stake, the show can’t risk an off-night due to illness or unplanned absence. The theatre community protects against an unexpected disruption by employing understudies: trained, skilled performers ready to step in at a moment’s notice and seamlessly assume the role of another actor. In addition to supporting the ‘show must go on’ mindset of the theatre, the understudy also receives valuable experience in training for a lead, high-profile role, and most understudies will also perform at scheduled times during a show’s run.

Succession management is the formal corporate term for the theatre’s understudy concept. It includes planning for business continuity by identifying and developing high potential talent from within who can quickly step into key roles when needed due to attrition, promotion or organizational change. Just as the outcome of the Broadway play is dependent upon the talent of the actors, the success of IT initiatives depends on the people leading them. Effective organizations require a succession management program to protect against the departure of top talent by recognizing and developing high-potential employees waiting in the wings.

TEKsystems surveyed more than 2,000 IT professionals and more than 1,500 IT leaders on the topic of succession management. IT professionals provided specific insight from the employee’s perspective, and the leaders who responded provided their insight from the employer’s perspective. We asked each group to share their viewpoints on how important a succession management program is to their organization, what most succession management programs consist of and what exactly makes a succession management program successful.

Casting Call: The Importance of Succession Management

Ninety percent of IT leaders believe succession management is important to the success of their organization. IT professionals take it even further, as 67 percent believe succession management is important to their own personal success.

A strong succession management program is so important to IT leaders and professionals alike because it provides career advancement opportunities and serves as a powerful retention tool in a competitive IT market. Ninety-two percent of IT leaders believe employee retention is critical to organizational success. When asked to rank the conditions that would impact their decision to remain with their current employer or seek employment elsewhere, IT professionals say that the prospects for career advancement and the opportunity to develop and enhance their skills were at the top of their list-even ahead of compensation. Succession management provides a solution, as a well-defined program includes the identification of high-potential employees and encourages discussions of career pathing in tandem with plans for business continuity.

By developing employees and promoting from within, a strong succession program can also help organizations make better decisions that are based on more realistic views of their businesses and that are more likely to achieve desired results. Eighty-two percent of IT leaders state they would benefit from greater insight into what goes on at the line levels of IT. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of IT leaders believe bottom-up solutions are critical to success in IT, and 66 percent feel that line level employees contribute ideas that are more likely to work in practice, when compared to ideas submitted by leadership. An effective succession management plans helps high performing employees work their way up, and therefore enables the organization to benefit from employees’ institutional knowledge and experience with how to best achieve business goals within the realities of the organization’s work environment.

90% of IT leaders believe succession management is important to the success of their organization.
67% of IT professionals believe succession management is important to their personal success.

Finally, employees benefit by developing a stronger connection to their organization through succession management. IT professionals have a need to understand the business and add value, further improving their skills. Proper succession management provides a vehicle for them to learn and grow within their organizations. Ninety-three percent of IT professionals agree that in order to be successful in IT in the future, they will need to have strong business and IT skills. The longer an employee remains in the company, the longer he or she can understand the business and add value.

Reading the Script: Effectiveness of Succession Management

Many IT leaders feel they are good at succession management, with 68 percent stating the programs at their organizations are effective. About three-quarters (72 percent) of IT leaders think their succession management program aligns with the strategic business planning process of their organization. But there is a disconnect. Only 40 percent of IT professionals think the programs are effective – a sobering statement given that two- thirds of IT professionals believe these programs are important to their success.

Only 40 percent of IT professionals think the programs are effective

Dress Rehearsals: Recommendations for Stronger Succession Management

Casting Call: Ensure Your Program has Depth

Only 51 percent of IT leaders report their organization has a formal succession management program; the remainder either don’t have a plan or don’t know what their organization’s plan is. Of those that have a plan, leadership involvement is mixed, and program impact is lacking. Less than one quarter (21 percent) of IT leaders strongly agree that management at their organization is held accountable for developing a succession management plan. What’s more, despite the stated value of the insight gained from line level employees, only 22 percent of IT leaders report that line level positions, such as security, engineering and development, are included in succession planning. For better results, organizations should implement a formal succession management program for all key levels of the organization, not just the senior level roles. Leaders should also ensure high-potential employees are intimately involved in the process. This allows organizations to groom employees at each level for the next step in their careers, and it also provides a clear picture of the future career opportunities available.

Reading the Lines: Examine Your Approach

The types of existing plans in use today are varied, as 29 percent of IT leaders use a pool-based plan and 22 percent use a position-based plan. Traditionally, more mature succession management programs utilize a position-based plan, which is based on the identification of key positions within the organization, followed by the identification of high-potential individuals to move into those roles. This approach requires up-front knowledge of and agreement on the definition of a ‘key position’ at that organization. The pool-based plan instead focuses on identifying high-potential individuals first and then moves them into key leadership positions as their professional goals and business needs dictate. Both approaches require careful planning and organizational focus, but a pool-based model will place proper focus on maximizing leadership skills. More than three-quarters of IT leaders using a pool-based plan agree their program aligns with their organization’s strategic business planning processes.

Getting into Character: Define Your Criteria

Fifty-nine percent of IT professionals do not think the criteria for a high potential employee is clearly defined by their organization. As a result, organizations suffer from misconceptions around succession management. Nearly three-fourths of IT leaders and IT professionals believe that favoritism and office politics negatively affect the succession management programs in their organizations. By establishing the qualities needed for success in each role, organizations can better develop and select strong leaders, and employees will know what skills and behaviors are necessary to advance within the organization. Without this guidance, your organization may struggle to possess and identify the true top performers, and employees may believe your program is too subjective or politically driven.

In the Spotlight: Communicate Your Program

Currently, it seems that many succession management programs are kept under wraps. Only 35 percent of IT professionals agree that the criteria for high-potential employees are communicated frequently, and 82 percent of IT leaders and 79 percent of IT professionals believe that this lack of discussion around their organizations’ program negatively impacts the success of the program. Only 7 percent of IT professionals report their program is completely transparent. To remedy this, organizations should communicate the purpose and principles of the succession management program, define the criteria for high-potential employees, and outline career path opportunities to internal employees. Organizations should also promote the program as part of external recruiting efforts. This lets employees know the organization is committed to their success and providing clear opportunities for long-term career paths, thereby improving the retention of high-potential talent.

80% of leaders report that lack of measurement or evaluation negatively affects the impact of the program
78% of IT professionals report that lack of measurement or evaluation negatively affects the impact of the program

Critic’s Choice: Review Your Program

Eighty percent of IT leaders and 78 percent of IT professionals report that lack of measurement or evaluation negatively affects the impact of the program. Further, just under one quarter (23 percent) of IT leaders strongly agree their organization’s succession management program aligns with the strategic business planning process of the organization. Organizations should review their succession management program on at least an annual basis in order to take into account new skills and competencies employees have developed as well as changing strategic business needs. This way, succession management remains in synch with where the organization’s current skills inventory and where the organization must evolve to be successful in the future.

Curtain Call: Conclusion

A well-defined, properly implemented succession management program is an important component to organizational success. Organizations can identify future leaders, build a pipeline of high potential talent, gain insight into their employees’ career goals and combat turnover. Meanwhile, employees receive a clearly communicated path for advancement that includes criteria for success, promoting greater feelings of satisfaction, higher levels of engagement and increased productivity.