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The HR Manager: Succession Planning and how to ensure the best leadership

How to ensure the best leadership for your business in the years ahead

By Susan Rogers

Preparing the next generation of leaders is key to the long-term sustainability of your organization. Identifying and developing potential successors for critical roles ensures you have leaders who are prepared to transition into higher-level leadership roles. Effective succession planning reduces the organizational disruption that comes with unplanned leadership transitions, preserves institutional knowledge and retains your top talent by providing enriching growth opportunities to your high-potential employees in a labor market that is increasingly competitive. Below are four essential considerations for effective succession planning.

Know where your organization is going
Where is your organization headed? What skills and expertise will be required from those who will be leading the organization in the future? What kind of structure is necessary to achieve the future strategy? The future strategy may require a different leadership skill set than the one you have today. Clarifying your future direction and leadership needs—a critical first step in the succession planning process—will ensure you are identifying and developing successors for the roles that are essential to achieving your future strategy.

Create a development roadmap for successors
Effective succession planning goes beyond simply identifying successors for future roles. The true value of the process occurs when successors develop the skills and experiences necessary to “hit the ground running” in their next role. This requires a focus on developing both the technical and leadership skills that are necessary for success in the role. For example, a future chief marketing officer needs to understand how to create and implement a marketing strategy (technical skill) as well as how to maximize their staff’s performance (leadership skill). Each successor should have a development plan that closes any skill or experience gaps needed for the future. You can simplify the leadership development process by defining the leadership skills that all people managers should develop and demonstrate in your organization. An added benefit of defining leadership skills across all management roles is that they can be used as the foundation of other people processes like hiring, promotions, performance management and compensation.

Understand career aspirations
Understanding employees’ career aspirations is important so that you don’t spend time and money developing someone who is not interested in moving up. Regular discussions about career growth are necessary, as circumstances can change over time. For example, a successor may decide they want to step back from the succession track to help care for aging parents. In time, they may decide they want to re-engage in the succession process. To avoid making assumptions, ask employees about their future career desires and whether they are interested in moving up.

Build shared commitment to the process
Succession programs are only successful when leaders across the organization are committed to spending time together as a team developing future talent. Leaders must engage in regular dialogue about critical roles in the future, progress being made by potential successors and needed development opportunities. The leadership team should work collectively to create these opportunities across the organization in order to build future talent.

Whether you are building a succession program for the first time, or reviewing your current program, be sure to consider where your organization is headed, how you can best build individual development roadmaps, and how you can foster shared leadership commitment. While the details of succession programs may differ from one organization to the next, these considerations apply regardless of your industry, size or mission.