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The HR Manager: How to Create a Succession Strategy

Plan now to ensure that future leadership changes keep your company on track.

By Karen Hawkins

You’ve probably heard the saying that goes something like “Good in, good out. Bad in, bad out.”

We must hire great talent that has the capacity to do more in the future. In the HR world, we call these “high-potential employees” (HiPos). If we take the time to get the right people in the door up front with succession planning in mind, it makes our jobs much easier when choosing those to move upward.

One of the most unmet needs of HiPos is ongoing development. Two main areas of development include mentoring and leadership coaching. We can’t wait until someone is promoted to be a leader to start training them to be a leader. Developing a formal mentoring program can really help those who have not been in a higher-level role before. Leadership coaching should be assessed and delivered to all levels. Everyone can use a boost and refreshers even if they have been in top positions for years.

Don’t overlook the importance of regularly assessing performance and the company’s needs. These factors are ever evolving and need to stay in alignment. Grooming a person for a role that has morphed into a totally different position will result in misplacement if the employee’s skillset no longer fits the need.

In addition, if a HiPo is not performing or growing as expected, either additional coaching or potentially removing the person from the succession plan could be necessary. Career planning should be part of every annual performance evaluation with very open discussions from both sides so that expectations are clear.

It’s also important to ensure that employees are not working in silos. This does not promote growth for the person, departments or the organization as a whole. Cross-train, cross-manage, cross-pollinate.

Be creative by allowing employees to dabble in other departments’ duties when it is appropriate. This helps increase understanding between co-workers and can increase a person’s interest in other career paths. Have a day of shadowing where employees spend a few hours next to someone in another department or another function within the same department.

Succession planning is more future-focused. Replacement planning is more short-term focused and should be part of the business strategy. Replacement planning can be used for more ‘quick-fill’ positions that would cause a huge strain if the role went vacant for even a few days or weeks. (For example, a cook in a restaurant or a receptionist in a very busy office.) Those identified as replacements are defined as having some basic skills and the ability to learn other skills or knowledge required for the position. Freelancers or consultants are other options for stop-gap measures if the positions require more expert-level knowledge.

People really are the most valuable asset your company has. Get the right fit when hiring, then take the time to train them and continue a mentoring process. It will pay off in the long run.