You work in HR. You’ve just gotten the assignment to put together a proposal to address succession. Here’s background information about succession to provide context followed by a five-step framework to help you take the necessary steps.
Part One – Background
The goal of succession planning is simple: have ready candidates to consider when a critical position becomes vacant.
Having ready candidates makes it possible to minimize or eliminate leadership gaps that can occur when an important position is vacant for too long. That, in turn, can enable the organization to work effectively toward its strategic goals.
Although development is a primary tool, the end goal is selection, not development.
Strategy & Competencies
Succession is one way an organization prepares for the future. The organization’s strategy tells us the organization’s view of its future. The strategy also provides a framework for identifying the competencies needed to implement the strategy. Those competencies are part of the basis for:
- assessing candidates
- deciding who continues in the succession pool.
Over time, many competencies will remain about the same. But changes in the competitive environment or economic conditions could lead to changes in the strategy. If that happens, new competencies will have to be identified. When that happens, some of the people in the succession pool might not fit the new profile and be removed from the succession pool. If or when circumstances change again, they might be back in the pool.
The scope of the succession process depends on the organization. It’s not unusual to read about companies “filling the talent pipeline.” That type of effort combines succession with an overall talent management strategy. It is resource intense. Some companies will want or need to focus their succession efforts on just a few critical positions.
Although HR provides most of the processes used in succession, HR should not own succession. The CEO should. There are two reasons:
- The CEO is responsible for the organization being able to achieve its strategic goals – in the present and future. That requires people with the right capabilities. Ultimately, the CEO is accountable for that.
- The CEO can establish rules that everyone must follow. No exceptions. HR can request, for example, that managers do not hide talent or that they allow and support cross-functional assignments or that they report on the progress of development efforts within their organizations. But managers ignore HR all the time. Ignoring the CEO has greater risks.
While the CEO has overall responsibility for succession, the process itself usually is managed by a talent review committee. The committee meets periodically to set goals and manage the steps in the process. Those steps follow below.
Part Two – Framework
1. Translate the strategy into the competencies needed for future success. Establish priorities.
These competencies are at the core of the succession effort. They will be used for development and to assess those in the succession talent pool. In addition to the strategy, also use your knowledge of possible or likely turnover in critical positions. Given the timeline(s) in the strategy, establish priorities for succession and initial measures of success.
2. Define the gap between the competencies you need and what you currently have.
This is a process of assessing your internal talent and bench strength. Identify people by function and/or position who have – or appear to have – the basic capabilities to meet projected future needs.
If you’ve never done this before, start small and build your expertise. That means focusing on critical competencies and critical positions – that is, positions in which a vacancy will have a negative impact on the organization.
Remember to revisit and revise as needed.
3. Identify possible high potentials and high performers. Determine whether to recruit outside talent.
This builds on the previous step. Here the focus shifts from assessing who might have the capabilities to perform certain tasks to who could be considered a high potential or high performer – a shift from the present to the future. Current job incumbents might or might not fit into one of those categories.
This involves establishing and implementing:
- Processes to identify possible successors and high potentials
- Measures and data collection methods to assess high potentials and other successors
- A process to determine when to use a high potential in a position
- A process to determine when to fill a position from the outside
High potentials and high performers often look the same initially. Here’s the difference. A high potential can handle the cognitive complexity and ambiguity that comes with higher level management positions. A high performer either can’t or doesn’t want to. A high performer is good at their specialty but isn’t effective at a higher level – think of the great salesperson who becomes a lousy sales manager.
After assessing your internal talent pool, you could determine that you need to recruit a few people from the outside who have skills your current employees do not.
4. Manage development and talent moves
This involves steps that include developing and implementing processes for employee development and for assessing the effectiveness of those development activities. This should be done in the context of monitoring the status of the overall succession program in relation to the priorities and success factors. Adjustments should be made as needed.
It’s essential to recognize that succession involves both development and selection. In this case, the selection means some people continue in the succession process and some don’t. Sometimes people exit the pool because they aren’t progressing well; sometimes it’s because something happens over which they have no control – like a change in strategy or business conditions, or regulation, etc.
- Identify appropriate development activities – e.g. a workshop, coaching, development assignment, etc.
- Assure develop activities fit the company needs
- Collect data to asses high potentials and other successors
- Identify blockages to promotional & development moves; determine actions.
5. Continue to monitor and measure the effectiveness
Although the talent management committee will monitor the program regularly, it is useful to hold a formal evaluation periodically to evaluate the various succession processes and to assure everything is on track. If something is not, the committee identifies and implements necessary changes.