Published: Apr 02, 2018

Building the next generation of leaders within the organization is a priority for most companies today. Baby Boomers are exiting the organization at a faster pace now, Millennials move from company to company much more frequently than other generations. The movement of talent is a reality if not a certainty. Developing a pipeline of talent ready to step up is critical for business continuity and knowledge transfer, but doing so requires a thoughtful approach to your talent management strategy and how that philosophy cascades and connects programs like performance management, employee engagement, and succession planning. 

succession planningSuccession planning is often the limited process of identifying and developing potential replacements for key senior positions within an organization. A lot of companies feel it’s hard enough to build a succession plan for executives, so there is limited desire to extend planning efforts beyond the C-Suite. This partial view of succession planning addresses business continuity and performance gaps when top talent exits or tragedy strikes. However, succession planning should be looked at as much more than leadership readiness and go much deeper than the first few layers in the org structure. Succession planning is also a way to help drive employee engagement, as SHRM highlights on this page.

Informal succession planning approaches leave information gaps. Senior leadership teams may mention employees they believe are strong players with great potential in their organizations. But taking this approach doesn’t boost the morale of top talent or suggest to employees that you are investing in their future. It lacks transparency and may feel unfair or even based on bias. Instead, you should support your strategy with more formal tools. Here’s how.

Define talent pools for development focus.

Countless visual variations of the standard performance vs. potential matrix (also called the 9 box) can now simplify talent pool evaluation so both HR leaders and individual managers can identify and understand the developmental needs of a broader set of employees at once. Identify skills gaps and training needs by employee group, and build development plans accordingly to bring them to the next level.

Take a metrics-based approach to succession.

Metrics should be the building blocks of succession planning. It’s important to define a standard set of metrics that determine things like employee potential, readiness scores, performance records, competency measures, risk of loss to the company, and any number of others relevant to your business. Once you’ve established the metrics that matter to your organization, having a quick and easy way to visualize your data makes it actionable. Gone are the days of the succession “document” or a 9-box in Excel, long-since replaced with interactive tools that give real-time, at-a-glance visibility into a full range of employee data. It’s these interactive tools that serve up the metrics you need to help you easily build, develop and manage talent pools.

Align development plans with your succession strategy.

Your succession strategy should go hand in hand with your development plans. Succession planning is not only understanding your talent pools and where they’re at with their performance and potential, but understanding how you purposefully develop the hard and soft skills required to progress through the company. As you encourage your employees to build new skills, broaden knowledge through special projects or stretch assignments, earn new certifications, or take other actions, it’s critical to capture the development. Conversely, its also important to note if they’re not progressing or even regressing in their development. Reduced reliability, lack of engagement, poor performance scores, or frequent absences should also be considered. The nice thing about modern succession technology is that you can automate ranking and scores based on predetermined qualifiers or you can simply drag and drop employees where they need to be on the grid. 

I saw an article in an HR publication a few years ago that outlined the difficulties of succession planning and warned that “there is no magic machine that spits out the information and analysis.” While you do still need to take the time to build the foundation for succession planning to be effective, the good news is this statement is less true today. Technology advances daily, and at a minimum, today’s succession planning tools can easily provide you with the capabilities to fully visualize your workforce and their succession potential. So, before you dismiss succession planning as a difficult – or near impossible – task designed only for large organizations with extensive HR teams, evaluate the tools available today to quickly help you assess, track, engage, and develop all the talent that already exists within your organization instead of just the C-Suite. Perhaps the magic machine that “spits out the information and analysis” has not arrived yet, but we’re growing closer.