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Succession planning
  • Succession planning is an important tool used by companies to pinpoint and further develop employees who are likely to take over critical roles.
  • Determine critical roles within the organization and define what skills and competencies are needed to be successful in those roles.
  • Assess the current workforce to determine what developmental and training needs exist and then identify high-potential employees well-suited for taking over critical roles in the future.
  • Use developmental tools to prepare high-potential employees for future placement in critical roles.

Succession planning is a tool companies use to prepare for the future by investing in the development of current employees who may take over key positions in the event of retirement, death, or other departure of existing management personnel. This process is becoming increasingly important as the baby boomer generation transitions into retirement.

The goal of succession planning is to highlight key management positions within the organization and identify employees who can be further developed to fill those positions if there are no designated successors already in place. In other words, it is a long-term investment in human capital by preparing the future leaders of an organization for positions they may hold down the road.

Steps for creating a succession plan

  • Although all positions within an organization are important, some are more critical than others. Critical positions tend to have longer learning curves, specialized knowledge, or essential relationships — all centered around achieving the organization’s long-term goals.

Once the company has identified their critical positions, the next step is to formulate an understanding of what it takes to be successful in each role. A summary of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences (competencies) needed to do the job — both now and in the future — should be compiled. Keep in mind that these criteria may change over time.

Determine what the organization’s strategic plan is for the next 3, 5, and 10 years down the road. This will help identify the direction in which the organization plans to go and dictate what future needs the organization may have.

Identify and describe each critical position that is key to the organization’s success, at whatever level that may be. Identify the current incumbent in each position, as well as any immediate successor (if already designated).

List the attributes and competencies that are required (and desired) for each position — not necessarily those possessed by the current incumbent. Remember to think of this task as filling a position, not simply replacing a specific individual.

Develop an accurate assessment of the current workforce to discern what the developmental needs are. Perform individual assessments to determine the current level of skills, education, and readiness of employees who can potentially take on future positions. Individual assessment approaches include using 360-degree feedback, executive/management assessments, performance data, assessment centers, and instrumentation (test results).

Identify high-potential employees, then determine who the best candidates are for each position. Do this for more than one potential position to better align the individual employee’s needs with where they would best fit the organizational needs. A single individual may be chosen for development for more than one position at the early stages of this process.

Ask employees what they want for themselves concerning their career path. This helps to avoid spending unnecessary time and money developing employees who have no interest in moving up the ladder or who have other plans for their careers overall.

Develop high-potential employees with specific goals in mind. At early stages, these employees can receive general leadership development training, but at later stages of their development (when they are the front-runner for particular positions), concentrate on developing each individual for the specific needs of each position. For example, if a position requires knowledge of international operations, part of an employee’s development may include a year spent abroad at an international location.

Working with employees, develop an action plan to develop competencies, reduce weaknesses, and improve strengths. The plan may include such action items as enrolling in formal classroom training, participating in a mentoring program, taking on temporary assignments, providing project leadership opportunities, rotating jobs within the department, and, of course, receiving coaching.

Document the employee’s developmental accomplishments along the way, and if the company has a formal succession plan policy, report all progress to the succession committee.