Business Continuity Relies On Succession Planning

The alternative to effective succession planning and management is quite simple: A shot in the dark approach that skilled talent is available when you need it and where you need it. Like most anything, lack of planning for leadership succession – at all levels – is an e-ticket to organizational performance failure.

Today’s demographic reality is that organizations have a shrinking pool of labor from which to draw. This impacts operations at all levels, from the CEO to the most junior administrative personnel. Further, highly experienced and skilled talent can find meaningful work just about anywhere. And, they will – unless your organization’s investment in succession keeps pace with or exceeds that of your competition. This reality is accelerating succession from an essential talent process to a “make or break” strategy in today’s global organizations. Can your organization’s revenue goals, productivity expectations, and client service targets really afford to have gaps in critical talent segments, roles, and skills?

If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to share with us your leading practices in succession management, please do so today. Participate in our 2015 State of Succession Management Survey. We look forward to sharing with you in the next couple of months the best organizations’ latest thinking and approach to succession management.

In the meantime here are some research-based tips on improving succession management in your organization. High-performance succession planning and management can be most effectively implemented in four ongoing steps:

  1. IDENTIFY critical leadership and non-leadership talent segments and key job roles at all levels.
  2. DETERMINE talent supply and demand in critical segments and roles
  3. CONDUCT organizational talent reviews identifying and calibrating succession candidates by readiness level
  4. EXECUTE on targeted development and mobility plans for all high potentials and other top performers

Here is some context:

Step 1. IDENTIFY critical talent segments and key job roles

High-performance succession planning and management is not oriented to top leadership only. Organizations with the most impressive business results are careful to manage succession in all critical talent segments and key job roles that have a measurable impact on both short- and long-term business imperatives. This includes managerial and non-managerial roles at all levels, from CEO to the most junior individual contributor. Unfortunately, Brandon Hall Group research shows that only 42% of organizations, on average, have a succession strategy for CEO and other senior leaders; significantly fewer have a strategy for lower level leadership positions and non-leadership positions.

To expand the pool of viable successors, high-performance organizations ensure a succession strategy for all critical talent at all levels — leadership and non-leadership.

Step 2. DETERMINE talent supply and demand

This requires a careful understanding of the current talent supply and future talent demand in those all business segments and job roles. Organizational insight into current talent supply and future talent demand exposes information about critical talent gaps. Understanding talent supply, demand, and gaps is requisite to reviewing the performance, potential, and readiness of existing talent and choosing succession candidates.

Step 3. CONDUCT organizational talent reviews

Choosing candidates for succession is based on current performance and future potential – on behaviors and attributes, not on tenure. Performance can be measured by performance management data, feedback from managers and peers, and self-reflection and assessments like 360s. An assessment instrument typically also measures potential. Potential assessments evaluate how candidates approach learning situations; their willingness to seek and use feedback; their ability to act creatively, and their level of assertion in making future opportunities happen. Potential assessments predict the likelihood of a candidate’s success in a next role. After organizations identify successors, they assess their individual readiness to assume next level roles or other lateral roles for which they will be groomed.

With so many organizations lacking a broad and deep succession strategy, it comes as no surprise that 13% of organizations have at least one ready and willing successor for more than three-quarters of the organization’s critical roles. This is according to early results of Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Succession Management Survey. Results are not final and could change.

Step 4. EXECUTE on targeted development for succession candidates

One of the greatest points of failure in succession strategies is lack of targeted development planning and execution for each succession candidate. Without development, succession planning and management is nothing more than a scribbled list of succession candidate names generated as a result of the talent reviews. When critical positions are open, the list is often ignored and the organization pursues an expensive search for an external candidate. Development – planning and execution of – is the bedrock of high-performance succession planning and management. The best succession development includes coaching, mentoring, action learning, 360 and other leadership assessments, as well as lateral mobility to ensure candidates have appropriate and necessary functional and leadership experiences unique to their organization’s business goals and culture.

Effective succession planning and management is characterized by at least 10 specific elements:

  • A priority at all levels of the organization (take a look at British Petroleum)
  • A continuous process, not activities with defined starts and stops
  • Transparent communication about inclusion criteria and who’s in and out of the succession pool
  • Clear identification of talent segments and roles that have a measurable impact on the business (take a look at Raytheon)
  • Review and identification of succession candidates for mission critical segments and roles based on defined criteria (take a look at Pepsi)
  • Targeted development and mobility plans for each succession candidate
  • Viewed by succession candidates as a continuously earned privilege, not a promotion entitlement
  • Implemented consistently throughout the organization
  • Inclusive of transition support as candidates assume next roles
  • Alignment between organizational expectations and candidate expectations about what it means to be a member of the succession pool

Until next time …

Laci Loew, VP and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management, Brandon Hall Group

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