How to facilitate leadership succession in your organisation

When experienced workers leave an organisation, they take more than leadership skills or one pair of hands to do the work. Experienced workers also possess unique knowledge about the way past decisions have been made and why. That knowledge is vital for future competitive advantage.

It is rarely possible to reach the next generation without knowing what came before it. Besides, experienced workers have built a social network of people who help them accomplish their goals. But a successor will not know those people and may require years to establish a track record with critical social contacts.

So, how is your organisation handling succession planning and management?

Succession planning and management should not be confused with replacement planning, though they are compatible and often overlap. The apparent need for replacement is frequently a driving force behind efforts that eventually turn into succession planning and management programmes.

Succession planning should not stand alone. It should be paired with succession management. Succession management focuses on continuing daily efforts to build talent and may include the manager’s role in coaching, giving feedback, and helping individuals realise their potential.

A combination of succession planning and management programme is an organisation’s deliberate and systematic effort to ensure leadership continuity in key positions, retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement. It is a proactive approach and should not be confused with replacement planning, which is risk management and is more limited in scope and reactive.

Succession planning and management are a strategy for identifying and developing future leaders for an organisation, not just at the top but also for significant roles at all levels. It helps organisations prepare for all contingencies by preparing high-potential workers for advancement.

As managers, our function includes identifying crucial job skills, knowledge, social relationships, and organisational practices and passing them on to prepare the future employees, thereby ensuring the seamless movement of skills and high-performing personnel within the organisation.

Effective job design, varied internal development opportunities, and a smart organisational structure are essential to promote corporate objectives while creating an environment that fosters employee engagement and retention. The convergence of the organisation’s needs and the employees’ interests can occur in succession management because of its broad scope and open process.

It is pertinent to note that successful succession planning and management programs require the contributions and effort of various critical individuals across the organisation.

Senior executives, management team, human resources, training and development, and managers and supervisors have ongoing roles in identifying and developing talent and ensuring that succession activities are seamlessly embedded into the organisation.

Starting and executing a succession planning programme is not different from any other significant corporate initiative. It requires a focus on change management, communication, and cultural alignment that must be actively managed.

Here are a few considerations for a successful succession management programme:

As we think beyond hiring or promoting today, our interest should be in the skills and experience we will need to gain future competitive advantage. Hence, we must discern the industry’s direction and the potential progress it will make in the next five to twenty years. What areas of the business will grow?

What areas will be scaled back? Is it likely that the organisation will expand and bring new talents into the organisation? How will technology impact the way we work? What types of national and international content needs and skills will emerge? We must identify the core competencies required for a broad range of critical positions, including those that may not exist today.

We must also evaluate the organisation’s current capabilities and develop or acquire the learning and training opportunities required to fill the gaps. We must also pay attention to the functions and business units that will need an infusion of new talents in the future and start bringing in new employees with the proper skill sets in these required areas.

Like any corporate initiative, buy-in and involvement from the C-suite are imperative. The managers must understand the value of succession planning, coaching, and developing talent beyond their immediate reports.

The organisation must continually assess key talents and determine if skilled workers have the competencies and experience required to move beyond their current positions.

It’s a common fallacy that an individual doing an excellent job in their current position is ready for promotion. The succession planning team needs to determine the leadership and management requirements for each critical role and then decide if there are high-performing employees who meet those detailed criteria.

If the identified candidates do not yet have the full range of required skills, the succession planning team must determine the training or work experience to fill the gaps.

Some employees might be encouraged to return to school for further education; others might benefit from leading a cross-functional project team or taking a specialised training class.

Still, others might require a short-term assignment in other business units. We must remember that every employee is different; hence, every development path must be different.

Also, communication with high performers is critical to ensure that our employees understand what the organisation is working to accomplish through these recommendations. They must see assignments and training as part of a tailored plan to improve their value, not random suggestions.

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We must ensure that our programs are integrated into other talent management processes and practices, including job titling, training, compensation, learning and development, and rewards and recognition.

This often requires employees to accept lateral or diagonal career moves to round out their experience. They ensure that such actions do not diminish employees’ job titles and compensation opportunities are critical to employee acceptance and job satisfaction.

It is crucial to monitor and evaluate the performance of succession planning efforts and adjust as necessary. Some key metrics to be used include measuring the reduction in the cost of turnover, the percentage of critical vacancies filled by internal candidates, and the number of successful promotions.

Another option might be to use employee surveys to identify high performers’ engagement levels and gauge their feelings about their career development efforts.