Human Resources Kit For Dummies
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Companies handle their interaction with employees who are succession candidates in different ways. Some hire and promote people with the message that they’re being groomed either for a specific position or for a more senior but unspecified leadership role; other companies hire and promote less specifically for succession and place candidates into a high-potential pool (a designated group being groomed generally for higher leadership or critical executive roles).

Exactly who succession candidates are supposed to eventually replace or what positions they’re preparing for may not be known to them — the choice to share this information is yours. If you do decide to reveal this, make sure that you establish an understanding that there are no guarantees, and the situation can change due to circumstances encountered by either the company or the succession candidates themselves.

In addition, note that after succession takes place, either party may decide the fit is not right and reserves the right to back out. This arrangement also reduces the likelihood that the “heir apparent” will become frustrated if the person he’s supposed to replace doesn’t leave or retire when expected.

An approach many companies prefer today is to place emphasis not on individual positions, but on developing high potentials and letting them know that the longer they stay with the company, the more likely they are to be promoted when someone leaves.

The company benefits as it maintains greater flexibility than if the preparation and investments made in individuals were designed specifically to back up a particular role. The high-potential person benefits because he doesn’t have to wait for just one or a finite group of people to leave. And the person who needs the backup isn’t threatened that someone will be ready to succeed her before she’s ready to leave.

The bottom line: Because they may eventually find that initial assumptions were too aggressive or unrealistic, many companies are reluctant to be specific with high potentials about any more than a general course of development.

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Max Messmer is chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, the world's largest specialized staffing firm. He is one of the leading experts on human resources and employment issues.

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