Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid begins succession planning


This year, along with the usual performance review, we have a new succession planning process to do. It gets worse: my team have been enlisted to help the other departments, in addition to completing our own.

So, what does succession planning actually mean? When someone leaves, in real life, my organisation will hire someone else for double the salary. If, that is, it is one of the Higher Beings in C-suite. If a mere mortal leaves, that job is simply absorbed into someone else’s workload. So, actual succession does not exist around here, but every now and then we have to plan for it anyway. Why? Well, because the US HR team says so.

I don’t want to come across as anti-American, so let’s just say our head office team has a very particular way of doing things. It loves to create a whole slew of process documentation, along with training videos, presentations, and frequently asked questions, all of which looks quite convincingly as though someone has really thought things through. However, when you read any of it, it becomes clear that no one has, and If you ask a sensible question, you will receive a rigidly unhelpful response worthy of an android. Sometimes, I think the HR team in the US has been entirely replaced by AI. Apart from the intelligence bit, that is.

Before we set off to help the Higher Beings upstairs, Big Bad Boss gathers us together to look at our own succession plans.

Just in case we can’t remember what team we are in, we have been provided with a handy organisational chart. This chart, despite correctly showing that there are only three of us on the benefits team, lists all our job titles incorrectly. It is a mystery how the androids managed that as I know the data is correct on our global HR system. Ah well.

Moving to the US?

The task is to create a new organisational chart showing what will happen if any one of us leaves. My opposite in the US has already identified me as her successor, appearing to think that it is a great compliment. I mean, wouldn’t any poor Brit jump at the opportunity to move to a sad suburb of Ohio rather than the terror-ridden city of London?

Well, I have had to visit HQ for several meetings and I can tell you it is a place where bad people go when they die: the offices are airless and grey, and you can get a headache from the flickering light just walking through the door. There is also no other sizable employer within commuting distance, so add to that a pack of competing colleagues who will take your throat out if it means a promotion. Even if they paid me enough to make it worth my while to move to such a hellhole, a sum I cannot even contemplate, what would I do the rest of the time? My idea of a cultural night out is not a double-size pizza at 6pm.

I consider calling my US colleague to discuss the inappropriateness of her choice, but soon change my mind. This is all theoretical. If she were to actually leave, they would simply give her work to one of her snarling teammates. She’d like to think it frees her up for the next step up the ladder, but that would never happen. The whole succession programme is just so much spin, put out by the head of organisational development so that it looks like his team is doing something useful. And you already know what I think of them.

Big Bad Boss has put me down as his replacement. Bless. I cannot possibly imagine how I would fill his golf shoes.

To share the love, I put Lazy Susan down to succeed me, which is an even sillier proposition. Lazy Susan doesn’t do any actual work, so an empty desk could easily replace her, but she’s put me down as her successor just so we can put something on the form. I hope none of this actually happens, as I’d be pulled in all directions.

High-potential employees

The second part of the process is for managers to identify high potential staff. I get sent to help the head of technology identify the latent talent within his team. In fact, he’s already decided on a candidate (whose talent is extremely well-hidden, I can assure you), and he just needs help filling in the form itself.

The organisational development team has surpassed itself in over-engineering the document. Without advanced Excel skills, a manager has no hope of completing it, even if they did follow the inevitable video instructions and frequently asked questions, so I suppose that explains why I have been called in to assist.

Every manager I interact with complains about HR creating all this tedium when everyone has more important things to do, and I could not agree more. I hate spending time on something so entirely unnecessary and difficult. To keep myself going, I calculate my hourly rate, including bonus and benefits, and for every hour on this nonsense my internal cash register rings happily.

Finally, I get back to my desk to learn that Big Bad Boss has put me down as a high-potential employee on account of my ability to manage complex processes. Geez. It’s great that he recognises my worth for a change, but getting labelled ‘high potential’ is surprisingly bad news around here. I’ll have to attend some dreary leadership training for sure, and I’ll probably get landed with more difficult projects to prove that I am worthy of a higher grade one day. I once did some analysis and noticed that 80% of our ‘high-potentials’ got made redundant within one year. It is time to revisit my LinkedIn profile for sure.

Next time… Candid looks after the millennials.