Succession Planning; Don’t Put This Off

Succession Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach

Having been in the talent recruitment field for over twenty years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to consult with companies who require someone to replace a transitioning employee as a result of not having a successor in place. Frankly, it’s good for my business but for the client company it results in additional time required for a new employee’s onboarding, learning curve and the message it sends to current employees, notwithstanding the recruitment costs involved. In surveys we’ve conducted we’ve seen proof that employees do notice when an employer tries to prepare for succession by ensuring an internal employee has the knowledge, skills and desire necessary to succeed in their next career step.

Its managements’ responsibility to ensure the organization continually has high-quality employees. A vacancy may be unplanned through performance issues, sudden illness or an employee being recruited away. Sometimes it’s planned due to retirement or a functional career change planned by the employer and employee. We continually see many baby boomers looking to move on to the next stage in their lives so succession planning should be top of mind in the organizations’ leadership team. Successful Succession Planning Basics

  • Do not wait until the employee will be leaving. Start planning now. Planning now for change will ensure continuity, not crisis situations. Address this with human resources practitioner or senior management team. Identify the key organizational roles that affect the future, functionality, service delivery and customer retention and retention that are linked to strategic and operational responsibilities.
  • Focus on skills and abilities needed, not on personalities. Succession planning may give you the opportunity to hire for the role rather than just looking to duplicate the incumbent’s qualities and skills. Just because you liked him/her doesn’t mean you need to hire in their image. Review the role, identify the competencies and success characteristics needed and rewrite the position profile accordingly.
  • Conduct talent reviews and identify potential successors The best succession planning results from a good working relationship between management and employees to accurately define each employee’s current priorities in their role. It’s the employee’s responsibility to ensure they communicate to management their current responsibilities and what, if any changes they foresee in their role. Factors to consider may include:
  • Past performance evaluations
  • Demonstrated willingness to move up and take on more responsibility
  • Work experience, both current and past
  • Career aspirations
  • Education and continuous learning
  • 360-degree assessments; what superiors, peers and subordinates think of them
  • Willingness to relocate if necessary
  • Loyalty and commitment; signs of going “above and beyond”

Confirm Successor Interest, Strengths, and Opportunities. After you’ve identified potential successors, the next step is to assess their interest and capabilities. Confirm interest. Is the employee truly interested in moving up? Have they previously demonstrated a willingness to go above and beyond either through their performance or returning to school? Have they relocated to take on additional responsibilities? Is he/she read to move into the target position? Compare their competencies with the successor’s capabilities in the targeted position; this will help you identify strengths relative to the target position in addition to what development is required to have them successfully transition to the next position. You can gather this through personnel interviews or surveying the incumbent, their superiors and other stakeholders. Review past performance reviews. Charting this information will allow you to continuously evaluate and track your internal bench strength and depth chart. List the positions, who’s ready to step up, those in need of development and timelines for each. Create Individual Development Plans. Development planning is probably the most instrumental piece of the succession-management process. The purpose of development in succession management is to prepare the employee for their next step. It will also reaffirm the company’s interest in employee retention and should help in keeping those employees prone to movement happy in their current role, until a suitable opportunity opens up. Don’t settle for second-best when hiring for succession The thoroughness and due diligence that management puts into succession planning, the more likely that the company will hire a new employee who will demonstrate long term success. Hold an employee talent review meeting Managers can compare their employees’ performance with their peer group, allowing them to gain a timely perspective of their direct reports and know what the strengths and weaknesses of the company talent pool are. Try to obtain buy-in from a majority of managers as to who the “hi-pos” are, creating an understanding of organizational bench strength and from there set out development plan steps and timelines. Evaluate and Improve the Program. Don’t sit back after the plan is implemented. Be prepared to defend its effectiveness as senior leadership will typically ask “Is it worth the cost and the effort?” Consider surveying the program participants in regards to their new position profiles, training and appraisals. Examine each part and determine how well it’s working, and whether participants are progressing and both participants and superiors are still following the career pathing. Are there any successes or failures (e.g. people promoted and succeeding) that can be used as a template for future activities? Document both successes and areas for improvement to justify the program year over year. Conclusion Voids in skills in the current work force and impending retirements are both valid reasons to focus on identifying and developing potential successors. As you prepare your organization for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, you should ask yourself: Are you focusing your efforts on processes that will ensure organizational success? Be prepared to alter the plans if and when the company’s priorities change, but implementing a succession plan highly increases the odds of identifying an internal candidate vs. calling Wolf Gugler Executive Search!


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