One of the most common anxieties among business leaders is succession planning. Many executives have expressed concerns that they do not have the right talent to replace top leaders in the event of an unplanned loss, or even a planned one. This reality causes worry about the future of a company, especially when companies have been actively engaged with succession planning to relieve the anxiety.
At the same time, a number of skilled leaders do not understand how to undertake the succession planning process or how to execute plans once they are in place. Succession planning involves a lot of foresight and strategy. This process cannot be an afterthought. Some key tips for more effective succession planning include:
Think in terms of development rather than planning.
Too often, leaders take the term succession “planning” too literally. Planning makes it seem like individuals need to simply make a framework for the future that can guide decisions. However, effective succession planning actually involves a much more proactive approach.
Leaders need to identify the individuals in their organization with the drive and attitudes necessary to assume executive positions and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills. While planning is necessary before such development begins, company heads need to understand that the real work begins once planning is complete.
Think of succession planning like building a house. A blueprint is necessary to complete the project. However, having only the blueprint when someone needs housing helps no one.
Foster an environment that values openness and honesty.
Corporate culture may not seem directly tied to succession planning. However, the reality is that an environment that places value on honesty helps people prepare more effectively for the future. In a company with an open and nonjudgmental culture, senior employees are more likely to discuss their plans for the future so that companies know when they will have a space to fill.
Moreover, this type of culture encourages candid conversations with potential mentees. Not all employees will want to assume senior leadership opportunities, so investing significant time and resources in them could actually hurt the company.
Executives should never make assumptions when it comes to people retiring or employee engagement. Openness and honesty encourage the important conversations that make effective planning possible.
Keep close track of top performers at the company.
Whenever an employee goes above the call of duty for a project or displays superior skills, his or her supervisor should take note. Keeping track of achievements makes it easier to give constructive feedback that recognizes strengths and guides individuals toward developing the skills that will best serve them and the organization.
As particular employees continue to gather more positive feedback than their colleagues, consider making a separate file for high performers. This file can make it easier to determine who to invest in as the current executives identify the company’s future leaders.
In addition, the file can help point to specific strengths and weaknesses of candidates to help guide the development process. Addressing any potential shortcomings early means stronger leadership right out of the gate.
Think about the plan in relation to the company’s hiring strategy.
When it comes to long-term succession planning, it makes sense to be strategic about new hires. If companies know that certain skills will be necessary when it comes to future leaders, they can specifically look for candidates with the most potential in those areas and start grooming them for leadership from the very beginning.
Moreover, promoting new leaders from existing employees may result in talent gaps, and the hiring strategy needs to account for this. Companies should avoid falling into the trap of focusing so much on filling gaps in leadership that they create serious holes in the skillsets of their teams.
Succession planning and hiring strategy need to go hand-in-hand. As a promotion for a current team member approaches, the hiring committee needs to think critically about the skills that could be missing as a result and ensure that the deficit is addressed with the next hire.
Measure success in terms of outcomes.
Frequently, companies measure the success of their succession planning in terms of the number of managers that have completed a plan and put it in place. However, this metric isn’t particularly informative.
Some more useful ways of measuring success could involve looking at the percentage of executive-level positions that are filled with outside hires versus those that are filled by a internal promotion, or the percentage of promotions given to people in the company’s pool of high-potential employees being developed for leadership. Executives pay attention to what gets measured, so switching the focus moves from simply planning to making sure that the plan gets enacted.
The process of engaging senior executives about these metrics puts emphasis on the importance of leadership development and helps create a sense of ownership in individual succession planning. Furthermore, the new metrics will help make corrections to current processes and build a more successful strategy.