As an HR professional, you understand the benefits and critical importance of succession planning – but has your organization invested the time in actually creating a succession plan? Many haven’t. 

In fact, a survey conducted by the Association for Talent Development found that only 35% of organizations have a formalized succession planning process. And in an another recent study, Deloitte found that companies were either avoiding succession planning altogether or were taking a dispassionate, process-oriented approach that minimizes or even ignores the very real impact that it has on the people involved. 

A formal succession plan can prevent your organization, regardless of size, from taking a reactive approach to filling critical roles. A formal plan can proactively prepare for staffing changes to ensure a smooth transition plan without interrupting major business initiatives. Other benefits of a succession plan include:

•    Motivating employees by creating growth opportunities
•    Identifying skill gaps and talent development needs
•    Shifting the organization to demographic and talent changes
•    Preserving institutional knowledge

A common roadblock for many organizations is finding the time to create a succession plan from scratch. This can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be – here are 6 tips to kickstart your succession strategy.

Three friends kicking waves - kickstart succession planning concept

1.    Engage leadership and set expectations

Your organization’s leaders play a critical role in selecting and developing your organization’s talent pipeline, so their support will be crucial to creating and maintaining a succession plan. Often, executives or functional leaders may not understand their role in the succession planning process or what they’re responsible for. 

A common framework to communicate these expectation is by using a RACI chart to identify who is responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed during a project. Outlining the expectations and goals of HR, functional leaders, and senior leaders in the succession planning process and communicating them to all those involved will ensure clarity and accountability among the participants.

2.    Start with a limited number of roles 

If you are creating a plan from scratch, limiting the number of critical roles that you establish a succession plan for will be easier to conquer than planning for all the critical roles in your organization. 

Start with roles that have a:

•    High business impact: the health of your business or critical initiatives would be threatened if no one was able to serve in that role
•    Limited supply of external talent: company-specific knowledge or a certain skill is required, which limits the supply of external talent that could fill a role 
•    Lack of internal bench strength: roles where one person is the “go-to” or no cross-training has taken place to retain institutional knowledge

3.    Build a success profile

After you have defined critical roles, create a success profile for each of those roles that defines key criteria and assigns a rating scale. Different roles may require higher degrees of a certain skillset or competency – so each role may have a different rating weights. 

Key criteria can include:

•    Experience/Education
•    Competencies
•    Emotional Intelligence
•    Commitment/Interest

Tip: Be sure to consider employees’ career aspirations. Many companies get succession planning wrong by assuming everyone wants to be on a leadership track. For employees who don’t, you can still tailor development plans to ensure the organization has skills to serve its goals over the long term.

4.    Review internal talent 

After creating a success profile for your critical positions, undergoing a review of your internal talent will be the foundation of your talent pipeline and establish depth charts for critical roles. 

Depending on the size of your organization, a talent review may quickly become a tedious and unwieldly process. Here is a basic process for a simple talent review: 

•    Ask senior leadership and functional leaders (or meeting participants) to review the critical roles and key criteria 
•    Have meeting participants prepare a list of their recommended employees for each role
•    Create a structured meeting to discuss each role and the potential employees for that role, with the goal of identifying the top successors and those that may need additional development for that role 
•    Set clear parameters in the talent review meeting that outlines acceptable conversation and how long you will spend discussing each role or employee 

Tip: To streamline the talent review process and reduce bias, leverage an HCM solution that maintains key criteria data, enables you to create reports for each critical role, and create a composite score for each employee – so you and your leadership team can easily view the top candidates for each role. 

5.    Identify gaps and development opportunities

During your talent review, you may uncover that you do not have internal talent that is ready to backfill certain roles. Potential successors may need additional training or mentorship to be fully prepared for their next role. 

Proactively identifying these gaps and prioritizing your most at-risk roles will help you build targeted development programs. These programs ensure that successors are adequately prepared to step into a new role, when needed. 

6.    Review and refresh succession plans

Many organizations treat succession planning as an annual event. However, succession plans cannot sit on a shelf until next year, your business needs – and your talent pipeline – are constantly changing. 

As talent develops, your business demands shift, or people shift around or out of your organization, your succession plans need to reflect those changes. Frequent updates will ensure your succession plans do not become obsolete and your organization is prepared to fill critical roles.  

Ultimately, succession planning should align with your organization’s broader approach to talent management – which should be aligned to your organization’s business goals and objectives. Watch our latest webinar series to learn best practices and actionable insights from organizations creating powerful talent management strategies.


Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2019