The news that Steve Jobs has resigned as Chief Executive of Apple Inc this week and that shares in the company immediately dropped by more than seven in out of hours trading highlights again the difficulty of succession planning for key executive roles. Wanda Goldwag is Non Executive Chair of True North Human Capital Ltd.
The fact that on each of the 3 occasions that Steve Jobs took health-related absences, Tim Cook took over and was generally agreed to have done a good solid role makes the concern even greater because that is actually far more practice than replacements usually have. It seems the more crucial an individual is the more difficult it is to have waiting to replace them a senior enough executive to step in their shoes. As HR professionals we need to consider why this is the case and how to resolve the issue.
Firstly we need to acknowledge the dilemma that charismatic and important individuals to a business are not always the easiest to work for and that playing number 2 to such a person while waiting to take over can often be a lonely and difficult role. The harsh truth is that if someone is good enough to do the role they may well not be able to play 2nd fiddle for the time necessary to be available to take over seamlessly. Next it is often the case that at different stages of a company’s development different types of leaders are required and the best replacement for the founder, motivator, and innovator of a company or a division may be someone so unlike them that they wouldn’t be able to work together for a period before the succession occurs. These challenges therefore mean that companies at all time should be talent mapping so that they know immediately who in the market place has the skills, experience & willingness to move from where they are now to replace the key individual. Talent Mapping works by tracking a sector’s high flyers and rising stars, these people often work elsewhere even in companies that are deadly rival’s to our own. The profiles of these individuals are researched, reviewed and monitored and once identified they are tracked sometimes for years so that when key individuals in the business we work for leaves, retires or becomes like Steve Jobs unable to continue in a role the company has at its finger tips an accurate list of all the possible replacements with an excellent insight as to what they are being paid, how long they have been in their current role and what they are like stylistically. This is particularly important if there is a need to replace key staff very quickly to stop market or product uncertainty. Likewise an awareness of the rising stars within the market will enable a company to attract key individuals at a more junior stage in their career and create a truly well prepared succession plan.