How is Your Succession Planning Pipeline?

An arrow pointing to the Succession Planning Pipeline

Next in Line
Almost all of our clients face never-ending pressure to build a strong, effective, and sustainable leadership pipeline.  Is your succession planning pipeline where it needs to be?  Do you know who is next in line for your organization’s key positions?

You don’t want to be unable to fill the open position of a critical leader.  Wise and forward-looking talent management leaders have proactive succession plans that can flex with the needs of the business and the available talent pool.  Smart planning should prevent leaders from taking a reactive approach to filling unoccupied roles.

Succession Planning
The very competitive war for top talent requires that companies invest time and effort in planning for leadership continuity.  You need to have an effective process for selecting and developing new leaders who can replace former leaders when they leave.  Think of your succession planning pipeline like your sales pipeline.

If you have lots of qualified internal and external candidates for key roles, you have a healthy succession planning pipeline.  If you would struggle to fill a surprise departure from a top executive, you have a relatively unhealthy succession planning pipeline.

Benefits of a Strong Talent Pipeline
A smooth succession plan gives you a competitive edge from several perspectives.  There is the focus on developing and managing the performance of critical leaders and also the benefit of saving money.  Timely promotions are far less costly than drawn out and expensive external recruitment and training.

Four Basic Steps to Keep Talent in the Pipeline
The process is not rocket science.  There are basically four big steps.

1. Define What Matters Most
First you must clearly identify the roles and positions that matter most both now and in the future vis-à-vis your business and people strategies. Then you must create agreed-upon definitions of what it takes to succeed in each role from both a behavioral and an outcome perspective.

2. Select Qualified Candidates
Once you have defined what matters most, your next step is to take advantage of the robust data that organizations routinely collect on their employees from 360-degree reviews, performance reviews, skill assessments, targeted development plans, and employee exit interviews to identify possible successors for specific positions.

3. Inform Candidates
While many leaders are afraid to alienate those not immediately tapped for future leadership positions, our research shows that the benefits of transparency outweigh the risks. Share the good news by letting candidates know they have been identified as high potentials and the specific criteria that was used.  You should also give them a general timeline for when the position may become available.

Everyone should understand that, in order to qualify, they will have to continue to perform at a high level and commit to gaining the skills needed for the next step.  The risk of not telling everyone?  The high performers may leave and the rest of the population may not understand what it takes to be a high performer.

When it comes to defining high performance, ambiguity is your enemy.  Make sure everyone knows what it takes to get into the leadership pipeline, where they stand vis-à-vis the criteria, and what they would need to do to move up the ladder.

4. Engage and Develop Candidates
Work with candidates and their managers to set out a development plan for progress toward their personal and professional goals. Spell out what additional experience and training will be needed in order to be ready for the transition to leadership.  For each candidate the expectations should be crystal clear and there should be an agreed-upon process and timeline for monitoring progress.

The Bottom Line
It’s just smart business management to be sure you have competent employees prepared to assume key leadership roles as they become available.  Otherwise, the leadership vacuum left behind can bring on all sorts of problems from missed deadlines to disintegration of team morale.  You certainly don’t want to go there.

To learn more about succession planning best practices, download 5 Key Succession Planning Trends and Lessons from the Field

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