- By Kristin Tull, Ph.D.
While it’s easy to get swept away in the day-to-day action of running a company, succession planning is important to ensure the long-term, sustained success of the organization. Even if the current leadership team is doing a fantastic job, you have to look down the road. A succession planning program will help you identify and develop people within the organization who have the motivation and potential to be leaders.
In today’s ever-changing workforce, putting together a succession planning program is more important than ever. Effective leadership is hard to come by, with only one-third of current leaders being effective. Further putting the pressure on modern companies, they’re beginning to experience a gap between the number of new hires and next-level leadership. There aren’t as many Generation Xers as there are Baby Boomers, and the Boomer generation is retiring at a rate of approximately 10,000 a day. In addition to this, over the last 40 years, organizations have become leaner — the result being fewer “ready now” leaders to backfill the retiring Boomers.
Simply put, sustained success requires effective leadership. A strong succession management strategy will involve a top-to-bottom program to identify quality candidates, mitigate risks, provide proper training, and accelerate current employees to be ready for the right position at the right time.
Want to make sure your organization is around — and successful — in the years to come? Here are the top three ways you can craft a quality succession planning program that will do just that.
1. Identify Leadership Qualities in Current Employees
A succession planning program can help you identify junior leaders who have the capacity and desire to lead. Using tools and assessments are important because they’re objective — they’ll help you identify leadership candidates in an empirical, accurate fashion, rather than through a political process. This will ensure that the next generation of leadership is truly willing and qualified and aren’t people who were chosen because they’re someone’s favorite.
The first step in the succession planning process is to identify your high-potential candidates. Who are those worth investing in to accelerate their development? (It’s worth noting that a successful company should be investing in ALL leaders, ALL of the time.)
Next, comes the assessment process. Just because someone is excelling in their current role as an individual contributor doesn’t mean they have the capability to be a leader in the next role or elsewhere in the organization. For example, a good salesperson won’t necessarily make a good sales manager, as the qualities necessary for either position are wildly different.
What makes a good leader? Most times it’s a combination of potential, skills, and behaviors. There are different models of leadership potential, and common themes across most models include having the desire to lead, being seen as authentic, being a lifelong learner, being able to deal with ambiguity, having a high level of drive and integrity, and being someone who brings out the best in others. Combined, these traits form the foundation for effective leadership. Business keeps moving faster, so the skills a leader has today will quickly become outdated. They not only have to be able to learn quickly; they have to have a desire to learn.
An effective leader is also authentic; they must be who they are and be able to bring out the best in others. Finally, they have to have the desire and motivation to be a leader. If someone is authentic and a great learner but doesn’t want to manage people, they’ll soon abandon a leadership role and move on. Keep in mind that good leadership can be learned, but someone with these innate qualities will make a much better candidate.
Beyond having these qualities, a good leader must learn how to manage, must fit the organization’s culture, and have the experience and knowledge required to be effective. Identifying employees with these characteristics and creating targeted leadership development programs fortifies your succession plan and creates a competitive advantage for your organization.
Finally, it’s important to communicate clearly and frequently with your high potential employees. Let them know they are seen as a valuable part of the company’s future and that you want to help them grow their careers. Failure to communicate may lead to valuable talent leaving for other opportunities because they didn’t realize there was a chance for advancement within your company. As you begin working with newly identified high potential employees, make sure you clearly explain what special attention they will and will not get. Also, make sure there are not implied promises. Just because the employee is getting special attention does not mean they will get promoted quickly or get exactly the job they want.
2. Make Sure Your Future Leaders Are Ready to Lead
Once you’ve identified the potential next generation of leaders, the work has just begun. Now, it’s time to develop and retain them so that they’re ready when your organization needs them to step up.
First, define what leadership behaviors are necessary for the organization to be successful. This will help determine the course of the training that the candidates will receive. This development can be in the form of formal training, a rotational program, or other appropriate interventions to accelerate their professional development.
Accelerated development programs may utilize multiple methods of training. The best programs move beyond classroom training and involve experiential and project-based learning. Best practices include people participating in an assessment program with feedback and on-going coaching from internal or external coaches. By investing time and energy into people with potential, you develop your pipeline and your best people stay because they feel valued by the organization.
3. Promote From Within
Building a succession planning program involves a lot of work. Although it’s hard to create your own leaders, the investment pays off with significant ROI. Having an internal pool of well trained and ready to lead people provides your company’s executives more flexibility and mitigates risk when executing the organization’s strategy. When you have a ready-built team of qualified leaders ready to step up from within your organization you are more nimble than the competition and better prepared.
Of course, you may have to find some leadership talent from outside the organization. At times, it’s beneficial to bring in outsiders with different experiences and ideas. However, even someone who is highly successful at another company within the same field may struggle if they move into a company with an extremely different culture. To be safe, outside candidates should be assessed and evaluated with great rigor to ensure they have the leadership capabilities you need and match your organization’s culture.
Most organizations don’t have a large pool of “ready-now” employees who can step into leadership roles. They do, however, typically have a number of “ready-in-the-future” leaders. Identify the latter and work to develop them. If you can do this, you’ll beat the competition. Grooming and promoting from within costs less money and resources. These leaders will have a jumpstart in being trusted by other employees, which will help their ability to be effective in bigger roles.
Promoting from within also has a much higher success rate than looking elsewhere. Did you know that a staggering 60% of senior leaders hired from outside an organization leave within 18 months? While bringing in new ideas and fresh blood can be helpful, hiring from within will help build a base of leadership that’s in it for the long haul.
How to Keep Moving Forward While Avoiding Missteps
Keep in mind while identifying high potentials that it’s important to objectively assess them before labeling them “high potential” and tossing them into the pool. Don’t confuse performance with potential or readiness for the next level up. Executive assessments can help you determine if a candidate would be a good match for a future position. If candidates don’t meet your objective leadership criteria, they should be disqualified from promotion until they do — no matter how well-liked they are within the organization. It doesn’t benefit the person or the organization to promote someone who won’t be successful.
Succession planning can only work if you follow through on the plan. Don’t identify and develop leaders and fail to use them when you have the opportunity. Also keep in mind that your organization will change with time and as it does, so should the overall plan. You can’t simply put together a succession plan and be done with it. It’s a living, breathing, changing, fast-moving entity — just like your industry and your organization.
At PRADCO, we have the experience, drive, and tools to be your partner in hiring and developing talent. We’ll take the time to learn about your organization and customize solutions for you. We’re ready to help you hire and promote with confidence. If you’re ready to get started, let’s talk.