SumTotal Blog

4 Must-Have Elements for Succession Planning

June 17, 2020 | by Kurt Jones | 4 min read

Whether it’s a CEO or a frontline manager, no employee will stay in one role forever. People can leave on good terms, with plenty of notice, and will still leave an HR team scrambling to fill their role. Not having a plan to fill the position can cost an organization six to nine months of salary on recruiting/training expenses.

The goal is to get to the point where your organization has role continuity. Each critical role, regardless of level, should have an internal candidate being developed to take over that role, should the position become vacant.

The name of the game is succession planning—nurturing your existing pipeline of talent for roles your organization may need in the future. This helps safeguard an organization’s ability to have role continuity no matter the circumstance of a role becoming vacant. Even the largest organizations can have operations totally derailed if key roles aren’t filled.

In developing your succession strategy, consider these four must-have elements:

1. Have a plan

First, you have to draft your overall plan. This involves identifying all critical roles—from first-line managers to the C suite—and determining the impact each role has on the company. For example, ask yourself:

  • What’s the day-to-day impact of this position on our organization?
  • If the person holding said position left, how would operations be affected?

The key is to develop adequate bench strength—i.e., the ability to adapt and pivot during times of change. Whether it’s a VP retiring or a sudden frontline manager departure, organizations will inevitably have vacant positions due to evolving business demands. By developing a succession plan, organizations discover where the gaps are, and which employees can help fill them.

2. Identify prospects

You’ve identified the critical roles, the impact of each role, and the competencies required to perform the role. Now you need to identify internal prospects who could—with the right development—fill a critical role should it become vacant. Have managers across the organization provide the names of their top performers and create profiles for each individual’s skills, experiences, and career aspirations.

It is important to keep in mind that roles don’t always have to be filled from the ground up. Not every critical role has to have a successor who previously worked below the departing employee. As hierarchical business structures continue to flatten, more individuals are making lateral moves when it comes to changing roles.

It’s important to consider a prospect’s career goals. Though Jane might have the pre-requisite skills and experiences to fill in her boss’ role, that doesn’t mean she wants her boss’ role. If Jane is a high-caliber employee, find out what she is interested in and where she may want to go with her career. There might be other critical roles outside of her current functionality that she could potentially be a good fit for.

3. Be transparent

When you actually meet with a prospect, be fully transparent about the opportunities. Prospects are not guaranteed these critical roles but can be guaranteed that the organization will help them discover what skills, competencies, and abilities they should develop in order to grow into roles, as they become vacant.

Organizations should communicate to all employees that they are always looking for talent, especially from within. Communicate that the organization is actively engaged with succession planning as a means to not only support business continuity but to invest in individuals’ professional growth with the organization. You need talent with the potential to stay for the long haul; vocalize commitment to growing the organization from within.

4. Focus on skills development

After you have a roster of internal prospects with profiles for each, start to identify the skills gaps each prospect may have. Once this data is collected, find the commonalities, and use them to influence future learning initiatives, learning content purchases, and development plans.

This provides driven prospects opportunities to hone their current skills as well as reskill to new ones. It also gives your organization a broader view of what learning opportunities should be standard in your succession plan. For example, if communication is a common skill gap among prospects looking to grow into a leadership role, recommend and provide all prospects with resources for them to hone their communication skills.

Succession planning puts people at the heart of business continuity

Business continuity hinges on people. Individuals with talent agility drive organizations forward through disruption and that agility must be nurtured and developed. Organizations have a duty to invest in developing the skills of the next wave of leaders. When driven employees see how committed their organization is to help them develop their skills, that commitment is reciprocated and keeps talented prospects where you need them, at your organization.

This commitment drastically affects an organization’s ability to effectively carry out a successful succession plan. Succession planning is just a piece of overall business sustainability, but it certainly puts people at the center of business continuity in these disruptive times.

Download our new guide to discover three steps to upskill and reskill employees.

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