THE BLOG
07/02/2015 07:01 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2016

3 Important Phases of Succession Planning

Succession planning is described by William Rothwell as a "preservation of institutional memory". He goes on to say it is "a 'deliberate and systematic effort' designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department, or work group by making provision for the development and replacement of key people over time."

Succession planning:

  • is a strategic process for determining critical roles within a company, identifying and assessing possible successors, and providing them with the appropriate skills and experiences for present and future opportunities
  • assists in facilitating the transfer of corporate skills and knowledge
  • operates within the principles of merit and transparency in selection processes
  • does not target individuals, rather is about developing capability and marketability to ensure that there is a suitable pool of potential applicants when positions become available
  • is a way of having the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time

Succession planning is like building a security net for your organisation and proofing it from risks that may result from critical leadership gaps and vacancies in the future. Even the most successful organisations have concluded that their future capabilities will be in jeopardy without a sufficient number of talented leaders at the ready, and succession planning is an active, strategic approach to executive talent management. In addition to safeguarding critical business capabilities, though, succession planning also accelerates leadership development and maximizes strategic talent leverage.

Organisations must identify those capabilities that are most critical to business success, prioritising succession risks and interventions accordingly. Remember to base development and succession decisions on the evolving needs of the company, overcoming both structural rigidity and misalignment between strategic priorities and talent capabilities. In other words, which positions are critical to your company's long-term success?

Let's talk about three important phases of succession planning:

Mapping Leadership Roles and Critical Positions

It is necessary to look beyond basic skills and knowledge required to perform an adequate job and into the deeply rooted capabilities -- an individual's social role, self-image, traits, and motives--that can most accurately determine high-potential candidates. Here are three things crucial to this particular phase:

  • Define the parameters of critical positions.
  • Create tools and templates to assist identification of critical roles.
  • Identify the specific skills, capabilities, knowledge and qualifications required for success in all leadership roles and critical positions.

Note: In defining capabilities, it is important to distinguish between two major categories:

Threshold capabilities, which are the characteristics that any jobholder needs to do that job effectively -- but that do not distinguish the average from superior performer. For example, a good salesperson must have an adequate knowledge of their products, but this is not necessarily sufficient to ensure outstanding performance.

Differentiating capabilities, which are the characteristics that superior performers have but average performers lack. For example, a salesperson that is customer-focused and empathetic, and can put themselves in the shoes of potential clients to really understand which products are important to them and which are not.

Developing the Succession Plan

Next, it's time to develop your talent pool. Now that you know what your needs are both for the present and future, you'll create a more comprehensive competency list based on your staffing needs. What exactly are the vacancies in sight? Executive leaders, specialists, managers, etc.?

You will also be using the information you developed in the previous phase to create a more detailed 'position description' complete with the knowledge, skills, and experience that are required for success for anyone assuming the role. In addition, you will detail the type of learning and development your company will provide to train team members for these vacancies. This will serve as your organisation's learning curriculum, which will be filled with development programs for those who populate your succession pools. Such development can take the form of:

  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Shadowing Senior Leaders
  • Coaching
  • Interdepartmental movement in line with vacancy policy
  • External agency rotation programs

Populating Your Succession Pool

Next, you'll evaluate current employees to identify talent pool candidates. Take a look at high performers as well as team members who display great potential. Part of this stage includes reviewing performance metrics, referrals, and past work experience. It's also ideal to have a conversation with employees who you're considering for your succession pool about their career plans. What are their goals? Where do they see themselves in five years? Are there other parts of the business they're eager to explore?

As you identify key team members and populate your talent pools, remember to assess each individual on:

  • Capabilities
  • Performance
  • Potential
  • Values congruence

This ensures that only the most qualified candidates continue forward in the process and that your organisation invests in individuals who can excel and take the company to new heights.

Does your company have a succession plan in place? If not, consider implementing one so that you can rest assured your company is strong and secure no matter what it faces in the future.