Heirs, Spares and Getting Prepared

Few people in the U.S. have been deprived of a chance in the past year or so to read or view speculative news reports about the health issues of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Although Jobs has been less than forthcoming with the details of his health status, it was serious enough to necessitate a corporate time-out for him. Because his persona is so closely associated with Apple's culture and its success, confidence in the tech firm's future - along with Apple stock prices - hit a speed bump when Jobs stepped away. Happily, both Mr. Jobs and Apple have rebounded. We certainly wish him well.

A very different outcome befell not one, but two Indiana organizations following the sudden death of their top leader last year. Health savings account pioneer J. Patrick Rooney headed both a medical insurance company and a foundation that helped patients dispute medical bills. His unexpected passing during a time of great volatility in healthcare-related industries and with no designated successors prepared to step in signaled disaster for the two organizations he led. Within months of Rooney's death, the foundation's board declared an end to its operations. At the same time, the state of Indiana took over the health insurance firm, and liquidation was set to follow.

If Apple's close call didn't bring home the point that succession planning is important, then the circumstances in Indiana certainly do. Organizations would do well to take a page from the planning playbook of Britain's royal family - "an heir and a spare" is an oft-cited quip associated with expansions of the House of Windsor. But today's business firms also must busy themselves with expanding the work of preparing leaders for the future - enough to address forecasted needs … and maybe one or two to spare.

The umbrella of talent management encompasses many disciplines: recruiting, engagement, retention, development, workforce planning and succession planning, to name just some of the most common components. As the economic downturn has wrought changes in the ways companies approach the elements of talent management, it also has served to highlight the benefits of looking ahead, projecting the variety of circumstances an organization might encounter and planning to meet those scenarios effectively. It's no longer enough to get through today relatively unscathed. We must be on our toes and not only watching our backs, but doing our best to peer into the future.

Soon, too, we'll have new results from surveys in Workforce Planning and Succession Planning to help you benchmark and to provide more insights into these compelling business challenges. Because members like you respond to our surveys, we're able to offer glimpses into the best practices of some of the top firms in today's business world. Aren't you curious to find out who's prepared for the future? Don't you hope it'll be you?

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.