Begin with this fact: America’s corporate boards of directors are now starting to tie as much as one-third of CEO bonuses to the development of a succession plan. Then, follow with a question: if your boss now must identify the next in line, how about you?
Begin with this fact: America’s corporate boards of directors are
now starting to tie as much as one-third of CEO bonuses to the
development of a succession plan. Then, follow with a question: if your
boss now must identify the next in line, how about you?
The answer? In the PR business, planning for succession is spotty at
best. Many vice presidents, even directors of corporate communications,
leave office or retire without giving much thought to finding and
training the new boss. Some may hire recruiters a year or so in advance
to find their successor. Others will locate internal candidates,
promoting what appear to be the most promising to higher levels of
authority and responsibility.
Yet later, the so-called stars haven’t shown the talent and temperament
for the top PR job.
The basic issue underlying succession planning, I’m convinced, is
characterized by one word: ego. It is ego that is threatened by hiring
the best and the brightest. It is ego that says, ’There’s no one good
enough to step into my shoes. Why should I be forced to hire someone
less, only to need to fire him/her later?’ Ego is also the reason that,
when succession issues must be resolved and a recruiter hired, about 20%
to 25% of those searches go unfilled. And ego is why many bright young
talents are stepping out of the field, pursuing dot-com (and other)
dreams, because their career paths have been blocked.
The solutions to succession woes are under our collective noses, at the
door of the top corporate officer. Here are just a few: CEOs are being
encouraged, fiscally and morally, to consider the world as their talent
pool. They regularly communicate with the board about candidates. Now
human benchmarking is becoming commonplace; recruiters are retained
specifically to compare outside candidates with those on the corporate
Promising executives are given jobs intended to broaden their skills and
prompted to accept outside assignments and be exposed to media and
And the process even dips into middle management, where keeping tabs on
up-and-comers is a responsibility of senior execs, not just the HR
To be truthful, few companies seem to have the time and patience to grow
CEOs. It is also just as true that a decade of downsizing has drained
the breadth of talent available. Yet there are, ultimately, no good
excuses for avoiding succession planning. After all, the Chinese
recognized its value centuries ago: ’If you are planning for one year,
grow rice. If you are planning for 20 years, grow a tree. If you are
planning for centuries, grow men.’