The words "succession planning" does not truly capture what leaders of an organization are really trying to accomplish. More simply, it's about identifying who's ready next; who will be ready to take over or move into vacated positions in a careful well-planned out way? This human capital challenge has continued to plague organizations of all sizes and industries. Determining "who's ready next" is critical since inadequate leadership is often cited as once the top reasons companies aren't prepared to meet today's economic landscape. Without a plan, you may need to resort to hiring outside the firm to find the next great leader and that comes with a big price tag in terms of actual and intangible costs.

Based on my experience in working with many different types of organizations, I have developed a list of the ten best practices to ensure a successful and effective succession planning process.

  1. Start With The End In Mind
    You need to take the time to clearly understand what you will be looking for in terms of roles to fill, requirements for those roles, and what is important for success at your company. Identify the core competencies, skills, abilities, and other required criteria for someone to be successful at your company in a specific role. As you take this step, ensure that you are as inclusive as possible and interview your strongest incumbents and their bosses for input. The output can include leadership competency models and updated job descriptions, as well as a list of those roles to be included in the process.

  2. Be Clear About The Roles That Will Be Included (and not)
    As soon you start talking about successions planning, people start to get nervous because they feel their careers are now in someone else's hands. So, up front, identify and communicate the positions and the people involved in the process. Will it include all supervisory roles? Senior leadership? Or only executive roles? By narrowing the focus, you can help to alleviate your team member's guessing and wondering about their future with the organization.

  3. Engage All Stakeholders Who Will Be Impacted In The Process
    HR should not own the process, rather the business leaders should drive it and HR's role should be to facilitate the process and provide appropriate tools along the way. Engaging stakeholders, particularly senior leadership, is critical. You should conduct interviews with them, invite them to take surveys and to provide input, and attend focus groups. Involving key stakeholders will not only help you get buy-in for every step of the process, but also you will receive some ideas about how to make it a better experience and process for everyone.

  4. Look Ahead 1-3-5 Years
    Of course you need a plan if executives in critical roles get "hit by a bus", however, you also need to focus on longer term succession planning, which means you need to forecast out your workforce needs. An important step to take with the forecasting is to identify "mobilization factors" for each individual and level of management under consideration. These factors include:
    • Retirement plans
    • Voluntary and involuntary turnover trends
    • Employee engagement and satisfaction trends
    • Compensation strategy and competitiveness
    • Management training and readiness

  5. Incent & Recognize Leaders Who Develop Others
    Although this step sounds obvious, companies often take a manager's ability to develop others for granted. I suggest you link this skill to succession planning readiness results, i.e. the more people a manager has developed for other roles across the organization the better. You can also consider offering incentives and performance evaluation goals for developing others. One stumbling block is that leaders sometimes don't want to give up their best players. You need to encourage leaders to "give people to get people" rather than being territorial. And remember, when you set goals for people around this metric they will work on them because what gets inspected gets done.

  6. Use Technology
    There have been some great developments in the software solutions space for talent management and I encourage you to make the investment in software to automate the talent management process. Some solutions require you to purchase the entire Human Resources Information System (HRIS) with a succession planning plugin and others allow you to just buy the succession planning module. With a cloud-based software program, you can enter in the data you have collected and easily update and share it with leaders across the globe. Also, automation allows you to keep the process fluid and simple because as soon as you create the plan it will change. No assessment is set in stone – people can improve, decline, interests change and ratings will change.

  7. Conduct Talent Assessments At Least Annually
    Succession planning is not and should not be considered as a static event, but rather a fluid process constantly evolving and changing. As soon as you create the plan, it is outdated so; I recommend that you review your talent on a regular consistent basis. That begins with ensuring role requirements are current and talent assessment is timely. Consider using validated assessment tools i.e. 360-degree feedback, and other competency-based tools that assess skill, interests, and abilities as well as conduct evaluation interviews with managers and incumbents and review past performance evaluation data. Once you have a fuller picture of the individual's strengths and opportunities, you can then summarize his/her strengths, growing edges, development needs, career desires, and potential. The nine-box grid tool is an easy visual diagnostic to use where you plot each person inside one of nine boxes based on past performance and future potential.

  8. Facilitate Creation Of Employee-Owned Individual Development Plans (IDP)
    Once you have identified the appropriate competencies that the employee wants and needs to work on to get to the next level of performance, you can create the IDP or individual development plan. We recommend that the employee own the plan to ensure it actually gets attention and completed rather than the manager. However, the manager should be available to approve competencies focus, resources and provide regular feedback on progress. When the IDP is documented and reviewed quarterly it becomes a working document that helps people reach their career goals and can be very motivating.

  9. Regularly Engage In 2-Way Feedback
    The development of an employee to get to the next level requires regular and consistent feedback and feed-forward between the manager and the employee. These conversations should include an evaluation of progress against objectives, competencies, development and career goals. It is especially important that the communication is honest and direct particularly if the employee has limited potential. Using the IDP as the focal point of the conversation is a great starting place and the manager should be prepared to help the employee to reach whatever goals have been pre-determined.

  10. Communicate Communicate Communicate
    I recommend that the succession planning process take place in the "wide open" rather than behind closed doors primarily because transparency builds trust. Involve all stakeholders along the way and encourage openness in one-on-one conversations with your employees. Tell people where they are and speak to realistic career goals, share career path opportunities, and most importantly celebrate successes and promotions. It is not a label that you are giving someone; rather it is an opportunity to engage in a dialogue that will encourage those who are high potentials to stay and those with more opportunities to work more purposefully toward reaching their goals.

Top 10 Best Practices