Succession Planning – finding the next CPO

A recent survey suggested that Boards of large firms were placing less emphasis than they used to on succession planning as a key responsibility. One theory is that, perhaps ironically, the desire to be more transparent means that when a top job – CEO or similar – comes up, the Board feels it has to go out to the market via a head-hunter rather than merely anoint an internal successor.

Whilst that’s a case that you certainly can argue, it also seems sensible that Boards should work on the basis that there should be at least one good internal candidate for every key role, even if you do then choose to measure them and their capabilities against external options. Similarly, for management posts at all levels, I’ve always thought that a key objective for any manager was to develop their team so that they had identified successor(s) who could step in if they fell under the proverbial bus.

Maybe this is my Mars training coming through, as that organisation certainly was strong on identifying talent and succession. We had annual reviews where,  for instance, everyone at Zone 5 (middle management) in the Purchasing function would discuss all the Zone 6s and identify those with potential to go further, as well as agreeing current performance levels, development needs and so on.

So, I would expect any good CPO to know which of their “Head of...” (next level management ) people could now, or maybe with some further development, move into the top role. Then the “Heads of ....” should know which senior category managers could step up to the next level; and so on through the organisation.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, or won’t look outside as well when the time comes. But surely developing internal talent is a key part of any management role?

Thinking about this is a procurement context, it strikes me that some firms over the years clearly haven’t followed this track. I won’t name names, but certain large organisations seem to announce a new externally appointed CPO every three years or so. What’s wrong with their internal process? Are they incapable of developing their own future leaders? Ironically, I just found today an old presentation from a very large firm who won awards for their internal procurement skills development programme some ten years ago. Since then, to my knowledge, they have had 4 different CPOs, none of them appointed from within... !

Now, succession planning and development, despite everyone's best intentions, doesn’t always work. In my time as a CPO, I had identified successors who then had the cheek to leave the organisation. That’s always a danger if you have good people. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

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First Voice

  1. Jenni Murphy-Scanlon:

    Excellent article and highlights some key issues. In my experience, some of the problems are knowing what to say to those not chosen as potential successors, or managing expectations of those that are. A transparent process makes clear how it all works, including for short-term absences and for vacancies ie if the role will be advertised externally and so forth. It is a huge risk for most organisations if they don’t have at least one good internal candidate for key roles – relying on the market and having enough time to recruit, select and induct to a key role can have a massive negative impact.

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