THE MAGAZINE

Succession Management: A Structured Approach

By Mark Tarallo

Let’s say you are an employee at Dunbar Armored Inc., and you receive a stellar performance evaluation. At many companies, this might earn you a nice raise, or a bonus, or perhaps just a pat on the back. But at Dunbar, you could be designated a “rising star”—which opens a door into a world of career opportunities.

Under the company’s new succession management system, Dunbar rising stars help design their own career development programs, based on their professional interests and strengths. And through the use of new aptitude assessment tools, stars are matched up with positions that fit their abilities, so when a position comes open, they might be next in line for the job. 

Founded in 1956 as a small, family-owned regional firm specializing in armored cars, Dunbar now leads a national workforce of roughly 5,000 employees—more than 3,000 work as driver-guards—with 80 branch locations and operations in 42 states. This growth has also raised the stature and awareness of the Dunbar name, and some employees have used their experience at the company to successfully switch to a related career, such as police work. This factor contributes to the company’s turnover rate—about 60 percent every two years—which makes for many open slots to fill.

From its founding, the “bedrock of the culture” at Dunbar has been the company’s promote-from-within philosophy, according to Steven Silverman, vice president of organizational development. For years, managers have been tasked with designating rising stars for advancement along specific career paths. But as the company grew nationally, succession management became more and more unwieldy. Managers looking to fill an opening in San Francisco might be unaware of a great candidate in Baltimore. “There would be a lot of paper, and a lot of things falling through the cracks,” Silverman says. Without quantifiable personnel metrics, intuition and gut instinct could play an outsized role in hiring decisions, and a promoted employee may not be quite ready for the next step.

So a few years ago, Dunbar’s executive committee decided the company needed to bring its promote-from-within succession management system into the 21st century. Executives wanted a system that would not only better use technology, but also take a broader approach and contextualize succession within the larger universe of talent management. Gregory Schaub, director of financial systems, conceptualizes it this way: “If you are climbing up the mountain of talent, succession sits on the top of it, and it builds on a lot of other information you capture within the talent system.”

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