Succession Planning: Plotting the Course for Future Leaders

“A good plan is like a road map: It shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.”

– H. Stanley Judd

When setting out on any journey, it’s best to have a clear idea of where you are headed before you begin so you can set your path, gauge progress by reaching desired landmarks and keep a keen eye on your destination, eliminating unnecessary distractions preventing you from achieving your end goal.

You wouldn’t pack up the family van and load in the kids without first developing your itinerary, programming your GPS and ensuring you have adequate resources to reach your destination, so why would you run a business that way?

Enter Succession Planning—your organization’s roadmap to developing future leaders and stability. In a recent study of CEOs asking, “What keeps you up most at night?” succession planning was their first concern, followed by developing a good organizational strategy and human resource issues. Succession planning is often seen as the simple act of having someone in place to assume the company’s leadership position(s) upon the retirement or unexpected departure of the current CEO or other key leaders.

Many companies will need a succession plan; however, few companies have a success plan in place. For those who do, the focus tends to be on developing a replacement by focusing on competencies needed today, rather than effectively helping possible successors better understand themselves and have a quality external coach to learn from. A truly effective succession plan is much more involved.

Develop Your Itinerary

Through succession planning, you should look at the current needs of your organization, as well as planning for essential skills and abilities for tomorrow’s leaders. Keeping apprised of future business needs is just as important, if not more so, as maneuvering today’s challenges.

Where can an organization begin its succession planning? First, verify what skills and knowledge are necessary today to perform the required duties of the position in question. These may include:

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Leadership Skills (interpersonal perceptiveness and sensitivity)
  • Operational Skills (day-to-day management)
  • Innovation (process improvement)
  • Communication Skills
  • Industry Knowledge

Next, assess what skills and knowledge may be necessary for success in the future. These may include:

  • Managing a Diverse Workforce (age, gender, ethnicity, culture)
  • Technical Expertise (understanding the technology used in your industry and staying abreast of technical advances and how they can be used within your organization)
  • Global Knowledge (the impact of global competition as well as the opportunity of global markets)

Finally, determine the extent to which your potential successors have the required skills, values and personality, taking into account possible developmental needs. This can be accomplished through:

  • Confidential surveys (superiors, peers and subordinates are asked to rate a colleague’s performance level and demonstrated skill for the necessary competencies)
  • In-depth, follow-up interviews (these provide more detailed information regarding a candidate’s skill levels and offer ways to maximize talents and improve any weaknesses)
  • Personality assessments and/or skill tests (evaluate cultural, organizational and job fit, in addition to leadership potential)

Set Your Navigation

Consider your organization’s unique culture when choosing a successor for any given role, and ensure their individual ethics are aligned with the company’s mission statement and corporate values. Many tools exist to tap into to confirm an appropriate fit, including the assessments mentioned above.

Utilize a third-party provider for data collection and analysis through assessments or surveys, which ensures a more open and honest rating by one’s peers and subordinates, and ultimately provides a more valid evaluation of an individual’s actual skills and developmental needs. The confidential collection and reporting of staff ratings can only be ensured if an unbiased third party is involved.

It is also important to demonstrate the succession planning process is fully supported and led by the CEO and Executive Team. Once your top leaders are on board, it will be easier to gain buy-in across the organization.

Avoid Bumps in the Road

Lean on the succession planning process to examine training and development needs as indicated by assessment findings. Based on each candidate’s results, an Individual Development Plan (IDP) should be created to develop or improve the person’s skills. An IDP may consist of job shadowing, work-related seminars, formal education and attending department meetings and industry conventions, all facilitated by ongoing coaching, mentoring and feedback.

Such planning will bring the successor up to speed with the requirements of the role and ensure a smooth transition for both the individual and the organization. Implement an IDP as soon as a successor is selected, in order to evade the knowledge gap that can occur while waiting to backfill a vacated position.

Succession planning eliminates many unknowns and provides a stable path for the future of your organization. When a vacancy occurs, prior planning will ensure that positions can be filled in a matter of days rather than in four to six months.

Reach Your Destination

The workplace is constantly changing, and only those companies who are prepared for these changes will be successful. Internal staff development will reduce the expense and difficulty of finding external job candidates to meet your staffing needs. In addition, with a recognized, established succession plan in place, your company will see improved employee commitment and retention as it becomes an employer of choice.

While Succession Planning can be a daunting process, the Trusted Advisors at KerberRose Human Resources can provide direction every step of the way. They can assist with creating a succession plan, conducting assessments, coaching successors and facilitating discussions on strategic planning. Reach out today to begin mapping your organization’s future.

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