The unexpected loss of key leaders can throw a real wrench into the works for organizations, especially in the current climate of steep competition for talent. Starting a hiring search from scratch can be frustrating, time-consuming and expensive. That’s why it’s imperative for organizations to prepare to replace crucial positions before there’s a frantic need. A proper succession planning process is the answer.
What is succession planning?
Succession planning is a process in which an organization prepares to fill positions and retain skills and knowledge when senior leaders leave. According to Deloitte, it “produces higher-quality decisions around promotion and developmental investments due to the more effective use of data and organizational input to make informed choices.”
Why is succession planning important?
Effective planning makes succession a managed event rather than an unexpected crisis. It ensures leadership continuity, which contributes to overall smoother sailing for the company—including better business results, higher employee retention and better organizational morale. Succession planning is important when it comes to safeguarding institutional knowledge, making sure it doesn’t leave the company when senior leaders do.
Obstacles to succession planning
In designing your process, you should prepare for common obstacles that can come up.
Although succession planning provides a number of organizational benefits, not everyone will be immediately on board. Not everyone likes to think about things ending. Some leaders in the organization may be resistant to sharing knowledge; managers may see succession programs as a burden on their time or they may want to hold on to their best performers. Program planners should anticipate these arguments and clearly lay out the business case for its importance and need. Starting small, perhaps with one major function, can create a success story that can help allay concerns.
Business unit silos can make it difficult to identify promising candidates and share knowledge. Proper succession planning can start by working with functions that are partially shared among different units. Planners can connect people across units for temporary assignments, projects or conversations to develop more cross-unit collaboration.
It’s important to ensure that succession programs offer equal opportunity, especially to groups of employees that have been historically underrepresented. Make sure the talent pipeline is drawing from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and functions, beyond internal recommendations or those closest to the existing role. Make it clear the goal of succession planning is to prepare employees for future potential roles—not pre-selecting successors. This keeps opportunities open and encourages a wide-ranging search for candidates
Applying a mentoring template to succession planning
Mentoring programs are very effective at identifying employees with high potential and pairing them with experienced partners who can help them grow and thrive. Mentoring focuses on building personal relationships that help make the organization stronger, one person at a time, in order to achieve long-term goals. Using a mentoring template within succession planning can give your efforts a head start.
Succession planning best practices
Following established best practices can help your organization achieve optimal results.
1. Evaluate current data
It’s important to understand your organization’s current succession needs and issues in order to plan what needs to be done. Identifying data points such as how much of your workforce is currently eligible to retire and which positions take the longest to hire for will help you create an objective baseline for your planning program.
2. Do your homework
Identifying potential candidates is key to succession planning. It’s crucial to make sure that you know what you’re looking for in a candidate, and that you conduct a thorough search. This means objectively establishing the qualities and experience that define the ideal candidate. You should look beyond obvious next-in-line employees to make sure you are including the best possible candidates, regardless of their current position.
3. Establish expectations
Your succession planning process should be transparent both for candidates and the leaders who are working with them. Make sure that candidates are ready and willing to move forward, and that leaders and successors understand their respective roles and obligations.
Organizations can build on mentoring principles and best practices to develop a succession process that keeps an organization operating optimally, regardless of leadership changes.