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Top 5 Steps for Developing Effective Succession Plans

As part of the overall talent planning process, succession planning is a focused process for strengthening the talent bench and keeping a healthy pipeline of potential and future leaders in an organization, regardless of its size. Succession planning is the process of identifying possible candidates for a specific position and evaluating their readiness to assume the role. When executed correctly, succession plans can help organizations focus on short, mid, and long-term workforce planning strategies by identifying, developing, and retaining skilled employees. Whereas an annual performance appraisal looks at past performance, talent planning predicts an employee’s future performance and talent needs.

Step 1: Identify successors for every leadership role

Each leadership position within an organization should have three primary successors:

  1. Emergency – list of employees who step in on an interim basis, should an emergent need arise
  2. Immediate – list of employees who are ready to step into the position today
  3. Ready 1-3 years – employees that have the potential to step in but need a little more development
  4. Ready 3-5 years – employees that have future promise

Step 2: Calibrate as a leadership team and identify development opportunities

Each leader should identify employees that fit into each one of the above categories and a calibration session should take place (vertically and horizontally) among the leadership team to align and agree on the names in each of the categories. These discussions should happen annually or biannually and include career plans, interest, drive, and aspirations of the selected employees.

Step 3: Create development plans and revisit

The succession plans are only as good as the development plans that accompany them. The primary goal of the conversations should be to focus on employee development needs to prepare them for their future role.

  1. Identify development needs.
  2. Create development plans to address performance or capability gaps.
  3. Discuss these plans with the employee and add to their performance appraisal.

Because we all get busy with our day-today, it is easy to de-prioritize training and development. For this reason, adding the development goals that result from the succession planning discussions will help the leader and employee follow through on the goals.

Step 4: Repeat annually

Succession planning is not a one-and-done exercise. The plans should be updated annually to ensure effective and up to date/relevant information. Employees often change roles, goals, and career aspirations.  Add to that, positions also evolve and change requirements and experience levels.

  • Succession plans are fluid and should be updated annually
  • Plans should be updated and discussed/calibrated
  • Members of designated groups are adequately represented in feeder groups for key areas and positions (SHRM, 2022)

Step 5: Evaluate the program

As with any program, succession planning should be evaluated annually based on feedback from leaders and employees.

  1. Listen to feedback and make changes
  2. Benchmark with other organizations
  3. Update programs, systems, and tools

Succession plans can be executed by position or by person. According to SHRM (2022), a program that does both will have a greater likelihood of keeping talent in the pipeline. Succession planning can motivate employees, improve career and development actions, and ensure the organization is proactive about its workforce planning. When executed annually and with rigor, succession plans can provide peace of mind about the organization’s current and future talent pool, help plan for operational activities, and stay aligned with strategic objectives.

Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about succession and talent planning

Aaron Marquez is the Senior Director of Client Success at TalentQuest. He joined TQ in 2018 and has been instrumental in building and leading the client success team. Aaron is also responsible for ensuring that client organizations incorporate best practices into their talent strategies and throughout their implementation of a fully aligned and integrated talent management solution.

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