An article in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled Sudden Leader Loss Leaves Firms in Limbo, says that according to research done by the American Management Association, more than one-fifth of senior managers say that their companies are “not at all prepared” in the event of a sudden loss of a key member of the company’s senior management team.
While this is obviously important and thanks to Apple, currently receiving a lot of attention, the issue goes much deeper. Most of the writing and research I read about the need for succession planning, is focused on senior management. To ensure effective strategy execution, more attention needs to be paid to talent requirements below the executive suite.
For example, at a biotech firm I worked with several years ago, when the program manager of a critical drug development project left unexpectedly, it resulted in the costly delay of the launch of the product. Management at the top remained constant – they simply didn’t have anyone prepared to take over the reigns.
A manufacturing executive I spoke with the recently, is concerned about the loss of an entire layer of seasoned mid-level managers, who in the past, had provided much of the informal mentoring and on-the-job training of young managers moving up in his organization. He’s worried that while they have plenty of talent, they don’t have the necessary breadth of knowledge to handle unforeseen events when they occur.
When organizations lose core elements of their internal institutional knowledge, it can be perhaps not as externally obvious, but equally devastating as losing a member of senior management.
To help make these key talent requirements more visible, companies must explicitly identify the critical talent resources they will need to execute as a part of their strategic planning process, and develop contingency plans in the event of unplanned departures.
Has this happened in your organization? How did you address (or not)?