Succession planning – an integrated approach to succession development

This incorporates system processes and performance management to provide data to assure objectivity and consistency. It lays the foundation on which managers can make decisions on succession at executive and other key employee levels. Most organisations face the key dilemma between open and closed Succession plans – do you tell everyone that the process exists.

Recommendations for success in succession planning
Critically, the first step entails the most senior clearly committed to succession planning. To make the process more robust they may need to be willing to commit further resources to achieve even greater success and ROI. You need to identify what and where improvements can be made and explore the following aspects that can have a direct impact on enhancing your current processes.

Strategic vision of necessary future skills: Knowing what skills you will need in the future, by examining your workplace trends, projections for specialists and graduates in critical professional disciplines, etc. It is also necessary to speak with senior leaders across the different business units about their strategic business objectives and the skills employees will need in the future.

Having the relevant data on your existing workforce: An evaluation of how many of your key employees will be eligible for retirement or may leave in upcoming years, and how many employees may be ready, willing and able to move into vacated positions. Do you have an understanding through a skills analysis of where you may experience technical skills gaps and whether you can identify existing staff with the knowledge or potential to fill these gaps?

Keeping an open mind about employees and skills: Succession planning can often focus on obvious top performers those employees identified as having clear potential. Hidden talents can sometimes be present in the less visible workers and some of these employees may come forward expecting development while others have to be encouraged. A robust succession plan should involve educating existing staff so they understand where the gaps will be, to enable them to be in a better position to step forward and express interest in performing a particular role or function.

Developing a robust plan: Succession planning is more of a science than an art as it is a quantitative, analytical exercise that requires good organisation skills, attention to detail and ability to project into the future. A robust succession plan needs to capture necessary information, store it, allow for its manipulation to generate reports and develop “what if” scenarios, and to be modified as the dynamics of the employee work force changes or the business strategic priorities and organisational needs change.

Accountability and responsibility: Succession planning needs to be communicated effectively and sensitively managed as some managers are threatened when asked to participate in identifying future leaders. The succession plan has to belong to the whole organisation and not just the Board members, senior managers in each business unit and HR/L&D departments. Ideally senior management across all the business units should ensure all managers are held accountable for identifying talent among their staff members.

Having the flexibility to provide more open access to talent development: To ensure that the recognition of development for all is an ethos that goes with succession plans, you may choose to fund a corporate talent management programme for your top talent selected as ‘key potentials and corporate property’ for future strategic positions, and then have more locally driven leadership and development programmes for your business units that enables more local and junior talent to be developed. Investing in a robust corporately driven and funded talent management programme can pay dividends in the long term by using and adapting the content and approaches of the talent management programme to other more local business development activities. In fact asking your top talent to mentor and lead on some of the more locally driven development initiatives can be a great learning experience for them and provide you with greater Return on Investment (ROI).

Understanding your STEM employees: It is critical to not overlook employees who perhaps are thought to be too rough around the edges or too different. Understanding how STEM professionals tick is important as they are talented professionals who may need a different perspective on how they can give of their best in your business environment. How do you get top performance from highly technical, specialist minds? What do they need to perform, flourish and succeed in their working lives? Research around neuro-diversity – an area of neuroscience focusing on differently wired brains – can help you shed some light on how specialist minds work, why they do not always sit easily in a work environment and more importantly what can be done to help them make the most of their talents.

Getting the balance right between hard and soft skills: Soft skills like emotional intelligence are often more important in determining success than more traditional hard skills or technical abilities. This is where getting the balance right between leadership development and its application to the technical requirements in the workplace to address real business challenges is important. It is also useful and rewarding to get your talented people to work on strategic challenges around aspects such as organisational culture and effective teamwork, as these too can be a developmental advantage.

Holding managers accountable for succession planning: It is important to encourage and assist managers who are nervous or have objections about succession planning. More open communications about its purpose and how the process works should enable you to have constructive conversations with managers who may have insecurities and biases.

Considering only upward succession: You may need to consider lateral succession where there can be dual career paths; the ability of employees to grow and develop should not be limited to a single career path. Employees can grow by exposure in different areas even if they are not advancing up the hierarchy, for example a senior accountant transferring into an operational or commercial role to gain a wider understanding, appreciation and knowledge of the business and its people.

Avoid elitism: Generic talent leadership development is effective, however to ensure succession planning really works across the board, then individual succession plans based on specific organisational needs for specific individual skills and training in certain areas can be as effective.

Integration: Some succession planning processes are overdesigned with too many forms and too many criteria, creating a high time demand on managers. Therefore the process can be simplified through integrating succession planning into the yearly performance review process so managers are evaluating current year performance and future years’ potential succession likelihood at the same time.

Take a wider perspective: Care should be taken not to identify “high potential” pools. A downside of this approach is the implication that people not in the pool don’t have high potential. Succession planning should be positioned as the means to identify candidates from a wide range of leadership levels and accelerate their growth by broader experience and exposure. In other words, the system is not just about finding high potential candidates, but also about finding and broadening the job experience of a wider range of talent to maximise their contributions to the organisation.

What does potential and talent look like? In a nutshell this can be classified into five areas:
1. Leadership promise – the motivation to lead and ability to bring out the best in people while being authentic in relationships with others
2. Personal development orientation – being receptive to feedback and having broad learning ability
3. Balance of values and results – the individual fits the culture, role models the values and has passion for delivering results
4. Resourcefulness and resilience – being emotionally strong and focussed under pressure and change and emotionally resourceful to remain solutions-focussed and proactive
5. Ability to master complexity – the individual is adaptable, thinks conceptually and can deal with and address business ambiguities

The dilemma – should succession planning be secret?
• The question of whether or not to tell high performing workers that they have been identified in the succession planning process is controversial. Clearly the advantage to secrecy is that it allows you to keep your options open; especially where the business environment changes or the company thinks that a different kind of person is needed to fill a key vacancy. However the key disadvantage to secrecy is that high performers may leave the organisation because they don’t see a future for themselves and then you have lost your key talent and human capital.
• In contrast, when employees are told they have been identified, they are more likely to stay because they see a possible future. Disadvantages to sharing this kind of information are that high performers may stop performing because they believe a promotion is “in the bag” or that managers may inadvertently commit to what the employee believes is a binding obligation to promote. We do understand the dilemma as the potential drawbacks of communicating succession planning have prompted many companies to keep the process secret.

However high performing companies tend to be more open about the process. In these instances such companies are committed to a positive working environment for all employees and don’t want an elite class system to emerge. They tend to have as a fundamental premise that everyone is treated well and everyone will know where they stand regarding performance.

Companies that are best at succession planning tell high potentials what their status does not mean; it does not mean a promotion to a high level job next year, it is not a permanent designation or a given right to progress upwards, and it probably does mean that there is an increased burden on them to continuously prove that they have the perceived potential that the organisation initially recognised in the first place.

Content Copyright The Development Partnership 2022