by Russell T. Westcott
Let’s start with the following premise: Quality begins by having the right people in the right place at the right time. Fulfilling this premise is a responsibility shared by top management middle management, line management, and the human resource function. Top management must ensure that strategies are in place that fully support obtaining, retaining, and maintaining a competent work force that can accomplish the objectives and mission of the enterprise. Middle management must provide the organizational support of the quality work force efforts, including continual training and development (remedial, refreshment, and developmental training for the future). Also needed is support of the knowledge, experience, and skills that the work force requires for the enterprise to successfully compete in the marketplace and maintain a viable, energetic, and enviable workplace.
There must be a correlation between employees feeling that they work in a great enterprise and that they are receiving competitive compensation. This would be an organization they respect, feel they make a meaningful contribution to, and receive recognition for a job well done. There would be a balance with the requirement that the enterprise must strive to return a reasonable monetary return to its owners/stockholders without indulging in unfair or unethical practices.
Talent management is a relatively new term permeating the management literature. In an article published in Talent Management, Ken Lahti summed up the practice by writing, “Employees can do better. With the cumulative wisdom and tool kit of industrial-organizational psychology, the science of people at work, organizations can measure talent—a candidate’s potential, readiness, and fit—and match people to roles and organizational assignments where they will be successful.”
Although your organization may not need or want to initiate a comprehensive accounting system for human capital, your organization can certainly adopt proven practices, such as:
- Job analysis
- Techniques for developing a motivational work environment
- Competency assessments
- Clearly written job specifications
Supporting employees’ professional development is also an important aspect of talent management. The objective of the program should be to find, select, and place the right person in the right job, the first time. For future planning purposes, it would be wise to employ a system for working with each individual to develop his or her potential competency for a succeeding position/job—succession planning.
Keep in mind that simply hiring the right person, assigning that person to the right job, at the right time involves more that these steps. There must be continual attention to developing, sustaining, and enhancing the policies, processes, procedures, and practices involved in retaining the employee as a valuable asset, as well as creating avenues for meaningful succession to greater responsibility and accomplishment.
What you may do for auditing/assessing employee retention practices and succession planning is:
- Assess the need for retention practices and a succession planning process, if none exists.
- Audit and evaluate existing retention practices and the succession planning process for: Effectiveness–How well do they achieve the strategic objectives of the organization? Return on investment–Do the benefits of these practices and processes demonstrate a favorable return to the organization for the operating costs expended? Cost categories could include cost avoidance (legal expenses, insurance premium increases, productivity losses, competency obsolescence), process development and improvement costs, operating costs, etc.).
- Benchmark your organization’s retention practices and succession planning with similar processes in other organizations to identify areas for improvement.
At this time, there is no published standard or regulation that specifically addresses employee retention practices and succession planning. The function of the auditor is to determine need, assess effective application, weigh benefits vs. costs, and compare results with other organizations to improve.
Questions to ask in auditing the organization’s employee retention and succession practices
- Do the organization’s strategies, strategic objectives, and planned actions support the importance of retaining a competent and satisfied work force?
- Are there identified practices and supportive actions that will continually support personal competence enhancement? Does the organization value professional development? Is there a succession planning process to ensure that the best people to fill a position and perform a task are preparing to do so?
- In so far as is practical, are vacancies filled by promoting existing employees?
- Is the organization widely known for its progressive personnel practices, including processes that: Ensure ethical hiring and promotional opportunities; Provide compensation and benefits that address the needs of a diverse work force; Encourage open communication, regardless of position level; Stress recognition and rewards for work done well; Supply working conditions that are safe, secure, well-maintained, and pleasant.
- Are there stated objectives and actions taken for continually improving the organization’s practices and processes?
- Is training and individual development widely used to continually sustain and upgrade employee performance?
- Have metrics been developed that are used to track and measure the effectiveness of the practices employed?
- Has the organization developed and implemented sufficient policies, practices, and controls to ensure an ethical and financially sound, relatively risk-free, efficient, and stable working environment?
- Does the organization strive to attain the best facilities, tools, and materials available?
- Does the organization take an active role in supporting communities from which it employs its workers?
- Is the organization known and respected for its adherence to laws, regulations, and standards pertinent to its operations?
- Relative to its competition, especially its selling and advertising practices, does the organization assume an assertive approach, but without aggression or coercion?
- Do the organization’s products and services meet their stated benefits?
- If many of the workers are represented by a union, does the organization make every reasonable effort to work with rather than against the union in achieving what is best for the employees and the organization?
- Are the organization’s products, services, and practices perceived by the public to be of high quality, and is the organization one in which a person is proud to work?
In many cases, employees tend to stay with an organization they respect because of the treatment they receive. Although the degree to which the factors cited in the above questions may differ from person to person, satisfied employees will tend to stay with an organization, even if the pay is a little less than they could get with a competitor. Employees leave when they are disrespected, unfairly compensated, and can’t see opportunity for positive change. Of course, there are other reasons, such as a spouse taking a job elsewhere, upsetting family conditions, commuting distance, or loss of trust in the organization, etc.
When the organization consists of a diverse work force (a wide range of ages, mixed ethnicities, balance between male and female, etc.) a careful analysis of its diverse needs is required. Somewhat analogous to marketing’s thrust toward one-to-one selling to address each customer’s needs, so it should be with employees. The closer an organization can practically reach the needs of each employee, the more likely that employee can be retained. This requires the organization to know a lot more about its employees and their needs than they usually do, as well as committing use effective retention practices.
In the September–October 2009 issue of The Auditor, my article “Auditing a Subsystem: Competence, Training, and Awareness” addressed ISO 9001:2008’s section 6.2.2. Going beyond that level of specificity, the March–April 2011 issue addressed included an article entitled “Auditing a Subsystem: Human Development Process.” The latter article posed the question: “Are there practices in place that enable the selection, hiring, assimilating, and developing a quality work force?” The 2011 article focused on hiring practices and continual development processes to get the right person doing the right job at the right time, and to prepare that person for future opportunities within the organization. This article extends those ideas by exploring what it takes to focus an organization on long-term retention of employees. So far we have alluded to the kind of organization that tends to keep the employee attracted to remain with an organization. Now, the process known as succession planning will be discussed.
Since its inception many years ago, succession planning focused on the potential replacement of senior management positions as top executives moved up and eventually out. More recently, and the subject of this discussion, is the application of succession planning concepts throughout an entire organization. There are seven major factors:
- Ensure that the organization has a strategic plan and that hiring/selection and succession goals are integrated within the strategic plan.
- As much as possible, hire people with the potential to be upgraded throughout their time with the organization. This requires continually revising competency needs assessments to keep hiring criteria updated.
- Work with employees to help and support them in creating and periodically updating their own professional development programs. This implies comprehensive training for management in coaching succession planning activities.
- Provide open access to requirements and benefits of the many types of positions within the organization. This means capturing, storing, and making accessible details about positions within the company, even including compensation ranges.
- Develop tracking and measurement practices to monitor universal application and effectiveness of succession planning in the organization.
- Ensure that information about available positions is continually updated and available.
- Select and assign a top-level executive to oversee the succession planning process and serve as a central information source for all employees. This is an excellent learning opportunity for a senior executive who may face the replacement or filling of a critical position.
Considerations regarding succession planning
- It may be best to plan to implement the process from the top down, level by level, testing its effectiveness and tweaking the process. This is probably best because the process tends to cross organizational functions.
- The depth of information collected and made available has to be determined. Consider the confidentiality that may be necessary due to external competitive pressures. Sometimes a cap may be needed, e.g., an employee can only get detailed information about three position levels, or pay grades above his or her current pay grade.
- Although developmental activities and preparation for succession should be performed throughout the organization, perhaps initially the succession plan may include only those positions considered key to the organization’s future.
- The organization’s succession planning process should be a critical selling point for attracting and retaining the best of the best candidates.
- The succession plan should be openly publicized within the organization. Even though an employee—at her or his present position level—may not be considered key he or she should have the option to participate in the succession plan to map out his or her professional development goals.
A competent, motivated, productive, and innovative work force can be your organization’s most important asset. Quality, which encompasses virtually everything your organization does and believes in, begins with people. While blind loyalty to an organization appears to be evaporating, a new work ethic is replacing it. This is a work force that believes it can make a difference and will find an organization with similar goals. To enjoy the privilege of having such a committed work force, organizations must work diligently to build and sustain a working environment that attracts, retains, develops, promotes, recognizes, and cherishes the worth of its employees.
About the author
Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, certified quality auditor, and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence. He edited The ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, Third edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2005), and was a co-editor of the ASQ Quality Improvement Handbook. Westcott authored Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional (ASQ Quality Press, 2005), and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000 (Paton Professional, 2003). He is active in ASQ’s quality management division and the Thames Valley, Connecticut section management.
Westcott instructs the ASQ certified manager of quality/organizational excellence refresher course nationwide. He writes for Quality Progress, Quality Digest, The Quality Management Forum, The Auditor, and other publications.
Westcott is president of R.T. Westcott & Associates, founded in 1979 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He guides clients in implementing quality management systems, applying the Baldrige criteria, strategic planning, and project management practices.