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The Official Baldrige Blog

Is Your Bench Ready? Six Reasons That It May Not Be

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Succession planning is a common topic that comes up in any Baldrige assessment, which explores an organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement.

The term "succession planning" shows up several times in the 2017–2018 Baldrige Excellence Framework as part of an organization's focus on success and on "responsible governance." The Criteria within the framework ask how senior leaders, in order to create an environment for success now and in the future, participate in succession planning and the development of future organizational leaders. And, under the topic of career progression, the Criteria also ask how succession planning is carried out for management and leadership positions.

Therefore, without some succession planning for leaders and managers, an organization would probably find its Baldrige feedback report rife with opportunities to do a little more planning for the future in order to be considered sustainable.

Becker's Hospital Review recently ran an article on the six common succession planning errors and how to avoid them. Author Tamara Rosin writes, the "labor market today is highly competitive, and healthcare leaders . . . indicated 'finding quality candidates' was their biggest challenge when filling executive vacancies. While more than half (53 percent) of respondents [to an executive search firm survey] said their primary strategy for addressing this challenge would be internal development, only about one-third said they have a formal succession planning program."

Quoting Mark Madden, senior vice president of senior executive search at B.E. Smith, the article's author lists the following as the most common pitfalls when it comes to succession planning:

  1. Lack of consensus around the succession plan
  2. Exclusive focus on top executive positions
  3. The succession plan is too rigid
  4. Technology is overlooked
  5. Leadership development is too limited
  6. Failure to train for the future

As I mentioned above, succession planning is a common topic in Baldrige assessments, as the Baldrige framework is designed to help an organization succeed now and in the future through a systems approach that links all aspects of the organization. Therefore, one would expect succession planning to be robust among Baldrige Award recipients. Here are some succession planning examples from these recent role models, taken from their award application summaries.

  • At Baldrige Award recipient MidwayUSA, succession planning is part of the Leadership System. The Leadership Development Process is used to identify future leaders, identify specific activities and formalized leadership approaches, and align future leaders with developmental opportunities. Senior leaders, including the president, mentor leadership development candidates. A strategic objective, “Improve Leadership Skills,” and a company action plan keep the focus on leadership development.
  • Baldrige Award recipient Mid-America Transplant does succession planning for all members of its leadership team, who develop succession plans for their positions and plans for future leaders. Plans are formed in conjunction with personal development goals captured in a web-based performance management platform. Succession plans are aligned with annual performance evaluations. In addition, a defined leadership curriculum is embedded in the Learning and Development System, which includes one-on-one coaching for each manager.
  • All senior leaders at Baldrige Award recipient Charter School of San Diego participate in succession planning and the development of future organizational leaders through a formal Succession Planning Process, which includes identification and review of factors for selecting candidates, a process for developing leaders, and the selection of successors. It also includes a confidential letter that has been prepared by the CEO and legal counsel in the event the CEO must be replaced unexpectedly.
  • Baldrige Award recipient Charleston Area Medical Center Health System also includes all seniors leaders in succession planning and develops organizational leaders through a four-step Succession Planning Process: (1) identify critical positions that would require an emergency interim replacement; (2) determine bench strength for those positions; (3) determine candidates who would be ready now, within one year, or within one–two years; and (4) create development plans for identified future leaders. Each candidate receives guidance and mentoring that balances both individual and organizational needs.

How robust is your organization's succession planning? Is your bench ready?

About the author

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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Great article! I'm curious if competition among succession candidates is included under "Lack of consensus around the succession plan" or another of Mark Madden's common pitfalls. Very exciting topic and research, thx!

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