Four tips for succession planning

By BenefitsPro

By Amanda McGrory-Dixon

As part of an employer’s performance management process, it should also have a succession strategy for key roles in place, says Mary Herrmann, managing director of executive coaching at BPI Group, a global management and human resources consulting firm in Chicago. Not only does succession planning give employees a glimpse into their potential career paths but it also prepares an employer should an emergency happen and allows the employer to gauge its future talent pool. By following these four tips, an employer can create a more effective succession plan.

Develop a planning and communications strategy

The first step is to identify who is involved in succession planning and determine whether this is an open or closed process with engagement throughout the organization, Herrmann says. While only the key roles need succession planning, some employers choose to be open about the process and invite others to participate in the process. This gives employers a temperature of how others in the organization would respond to specific employees moving into those key roles.

“When we go in to support a company and they’re trying to identify the next CEO, we would interview probably 10 people around that individual to find out how that person is currently showing up in the organization and that person’s readiness for the next level,” Herrmann says.

Understand the role’s future requirements

When identifying potential successors, an employer should examine future job requirements, Herrmann says. The demands of key roles often change, especially in today’s constantly evolving business world. Before determining potential successors, an employer should understand the necessary future leadership competencies, technical skills and overall experience level. An employer can do so by involving internal stakeholders, such as executives and board members.

“You want to think about where this company is going and what the leader of the future will look like,” Herrmann says. “It’s important to have a comprehensive assessment process in place and charge the C-suite with the organization’s future.”

Create a training plan for internal candidates

Once potential successors are solidified, creating a training plan for those employees is helpful in ensuring they are ready for the job, Herrmann says. These potential successors may have some of the necessary skills to take over key roles, but that doesn’t mean they’re immediately ready. For a smoother transition, it’s best to allow those employees to develop and refine those necessary skills before they are required. At the same time, employees who are prepared for the job now must still be challenged if they are to be retained.
“If they’re ready now, you need to look at what set of activities they need to retain them until the job opens, or if they’re ready-future, you need to look at what additional skills sets they need,” Herrmann says.

Still, even after developing internal employees, the employer could find a more suitable successor outside of the organization. If this happens, an employer must also develop a retention plan for those employees, Herrmann says. In some cases, an employer may find a more suitable successor outside of the organization, but it doesn’t necessarily want to lose its high-quality internal talent, either, which could be a blow to the company.

Follow an onboarding process

Succession planning doesn’t stop once the employee is named to a new role, Herrmann says. Moving into a new key role is often a challenging endeavor, and an employer should follow its succession plan with an onboarding process. By proactively working with that employee during the transition into the new role, he or she is more likely to stay with the organization and have fewer struggles.

“We often say that it’s smart to invest as the leaders are coming into the organization during the transition period,” Herrmann says. “They’re well-supported, and you’re less likely to get the call six months later saying this employee is having a hard time managing in the new organization or role.”

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