I was talking with a recruiter recently who was telling me about a job they had posted. They wanted to recruit someone with five years of experience with software that had only been around for 12 years, and someone with advanced knowledge in half a dozen different things. I told him that he would never be able to find somebody that met the requirements they had written.
I’m a firm believer that there is a science to a lot of management. The reason there are books that provide guidance for managing better is because following the strategies and suggestions contained therein are often helpful, and we are continually learning more about people and how they work and what motivates them. But I have begun to think that succession planning is more art than science. That doesn’t make it less important to prioritize, it just makes it harder and requires more deliberation and practice. There are some solid tips that can help, but you’ll need to think a lot about it and begin to hone your instincts on this subject.
Succession planning is necessary in two different instances: either you need to plan to replace a subordinate, or you need to plan to replace yourself. And you should have a plan in mind for every employee you have, even if the plan is relatively simplistic. As the axiom goes, plans are worthless, but planning is essential. The situation will change often, and your plans will need updated too, but if you fail to plan you’ll be caught with a gap in your staff’s capabilities that could be devastating.
How important is it to hire the right people? I think we all agree that we want to hire good staff, but defining what makes someone “right” can be difficult. Do they need to already have the technical knowledge or skills your job requires, or do they just need to be teachable? How important is it that they work well in a team environment, and how good does their spelling and grammar need to be? What about their oral communication skills? Is a college degree paramount, and if not, what other factors will you evaluate?
I’ll be writing a number of articles about hiring, interviewing, and personnel selection to tackle all of these questions, but in this blog post I want to step back a bit and lay the foundation. Doing a good job at hiring staff is incredibly important because great staff make a huge difference for your team and work. If you evaluate staff on a 1-5 scale, with acceptable performance being a 3, you might think that someone who is a 5 is about twice as good as the average staff member. In reality, that person may be ten times better, despite you paying them the same amount.