5 Elements Every Succession Plan Must Have

According to a study by ManpowerGroup, companies that struggle to fill vacant positions are having the most difficulty finding candidates with technical competence and experience, employability skills that include the ability and desire to grow and adapt, and social and emotional soft skills. When talent is in such high demand, the stewardship of talent becomes fundamental to the long-term success of any organization. Succession management is more than just a plan to fill vacant seats at the top; it’s also the most important way to keep high potential individuals in your company incubator, growing and nurturing them until they are ready to emerge as leaders of your organization.

When succession management is planned effectively, the company will enjoy improved employee engagement, more career development opportunities, and the security of having the right people in place to sustain high performance for the long haul. It might seem strange, then, to discover than only 14 percent of companies consider their succession planning and talent management programs to be successful. Why aren’t more organizations getting it right? Perhaps it’s time to take a look at what makes up a successful plan so more companies can align their strategies with successful outcomes. 

1. Expectations of the Leadership Team

If the purpose of talent management and succession planning is to focus on the current and future needs of the organization, then the first step is to bring the leadership team into alignment as far as what the current state of the talent pool is and what the expectations are for the future. Leaders need to define what success looks like for key leadership roles in the organization, what gaps need to be closed and what capabilities should be sought after from the workforce in general. Many executive teams assume they are aligned on expectations for leadership roles, but our research finds that this is simply not true. Successful talent reviews must start with alignment of what good looks like.

A dynamic talent review process must lead to a succession plan that activates a sustainable pipeline of diverse talent, while also aligning with an organization’s long-term business goals. Not only should a succession plan identify high-potential candidates to fill positions as they operate today, but the plan should also include insights and speculations regarding what will be necessary from that position in the future to continue reaching strategic business objectives. Short-term goals must then be set to identify the behaviors, experience, motivators and personal traits that should be present or cultivated in high-potential talent who have been identified as succession candidates.

2. Facilitate Performance Calibration

Calibration allows everyone in an organization to apply standards when measuring employee performance while also strengthening the ability of leaders to differentiate performance objectively. Calibration also allows for authentic, objective and transparent discussions about talent and performance. 

Leadership and HR must come together to form a comprehensive set of standards by which the performance and the potential of individuals in the company can be measured. This starts by designing success profiles that identify exemplar levels of performance clarifying and aligning around what top performance in a role basically, what does good look like. Then, the traits and actions of high-performance individuals should be clearly defined, including technical knowledge, learning ability, agility and soft skills. 

Lastly, defining what potential looks like in your organization should be defined. This includes not only the capacity to develop qualities and skills, but also the interest and desire to learn and grow as well. It’s not enough for employees to be quick learners or easily adapt to different situations; they must also demonstrate an interest in more challenging work and leadership roles. This is true learning agility; which research shows is a performance differentiator in high-performing leaders.

3. Conducting Comprehensive Talent Reviews

Talent reviews and performance evaluations should be separate endeavors. The latter is a more niche activity that should be performed on a regular basis and serve as a guide for the employee and his or her manager in terms of marking successes and determining specific paths of growth using both long- and short-term goals. Performance evaluations should also inform the talent review process and contain aggregated information from several performance evaluations.

The talent review process should begin by identifying critical roles in the company that require a defined succession plan as these roles and the rungs on the ladder directly beneath will be the ones up for review first. Along with defining the roles, key competencies and abilities for the role should be described so the review process is focused on the correct aspects of employee performance. Many organizations focus on top levels, but leaders beware. The middle levels of the organization can’t be dismissed. This is the part of the organization where talent can be developed.

The overall objective of these activities should be to identify talent within the organization who are capable of moving into leadership roles and then objectively determine which skills and competencies need to be developed in order for that person to move up to the next level of leadership. The reverse should also be a goal: to have critical roles identified, and a corresponding pipeline of employees working their way toward having the ability to move into these roles when it becomes necessary.

4. Development Planning and Follow-up

When expectations are aligned, performance standards and expectations calibrated and talent reviews formalized to include the specific goals and objectives of succession planning, the next logical step is to define a development process as you begin to execute your planning framework and start filling up the talent pipeline.

What are the next steps that will support the development of identified successors? What are the next steps for new and emerging talent? The key competencies and traits have already been identified; this component of succession planning should be focused on finding the most effective ways to equip talent with these competencies and develop these traits. Keep in mind that people learn in a variety of ways, including hands-on, classroom, video and from reading so build this variety into the development plans.

This is generally where organization start to lose momentum with their talent review process. Don’t make that mistake, as this is the most important part of the talent management process.

5. Measuring the Impact

Because a succession plan is likely to consume important company resources, measurable results will be necessary to not only confirm that the actions are effective, but also to keep the holders of the purse strings on board with the process. There must be a direct link to strategic business objectives and other talent metrics. Each organization should determine which metrics mean the most in their unique context, from abstract ideas such as engagement and readiness to quantifiable objectives such as production rates, sales and revenue. The goal should be to have a broad view of the overall succession plan, its costs, and general effectiveness as well as an in-depth look at the development activities for an individual or group and the impact of those activities on the company. 

Building a Sustainable Pipeline

An effective succession plan is critical for any organization to achieve long-term success. By having the right people in the right place at the right time, your company can expect to deliver on long-term goals and strategies and rebound effectively from departures, retirements and other separations from the company. Plus, those diligently working their way up the pipeline will enjoy a work environment that is focused on their growth and success and in turn, deliver greater engagement and productivity while being more interested in seeking key leadership roles and taking the necessary steps to get there.

At LAK Group, we work with leaders to transform business goals into human strategies that put the right people in the right seats, so everyone wins even as your market changes. If you have questions about your succession planning process, or you want to make sure that your current program positions your organization for success, we’re here for you. Contact Michael Grubich at 262-786-9200 or via email, if you have questions or to schedule a conversation about your succession planning efforts.