Succession Planning — Building Your Talent Pipeline

Your business seems to be running smoothly. All of your key positions are filled with dedicated, hardworking people. Your future seems bright, and you don’t anticipate any of your key players wanting to leave their jobs. Succession planning couldn’t be further from your mind because everything seems to be going so well.

Let me ask you this. How would your organization fare if your top salespeople left tomorrow to work for the competition? If your executive director suddenly became seriously ill and couldn’t perform her duties, would your organization operate smoothly? What if your best managers announced their plans to part ways with your organization to begin their own business venture?

Succession planning is critical if you want to sustain or grow your operation into the next generation. As important as it is for responding to the departure of key employees, it’s what smart organizations do for many other reasons. Maintaining a solid succession plan is a proactive and strategic management practice which will help you to avoid inefficient and hasty reactive decision making. As you know, inefficient and hasty decision making results in throwing away your organization’s profits, which takes away from your bottom line.

Some of the advantages of succession planning include being able to: attract and retain the best talent; avoid extended vacancies in key positions; respond effectively to change, and secure your organization’s future. Unlike replacement planning, which is simply identifying one or two replacements for key positions, succession planning is a strategic process of identifying your high-potential employees. Then, it’s about developing them to take on progressively greater responsibility and leadership in your organization.

A common error in succession planning is to mistake high performing employees for high potential employees which frequently leads to bad internal promotion decisions. Said differently, many business leaders incorrectly assume the best person to promote into a leadership role, is the employee who has been doing the job the longest or strongest. So, how do you spot what you’ve got? Here is how to distinguish between your high potential and high performing employees:

Your high potentials know the business, are respected by others, have guts, are ambitious, work well with others, and have future potential to make a big impact.

Your high performers consistently exceed expectations, are your “go-to” people in a crunch, are great at their job, take pride in their accomplishments, and may not necessarily have the potential or desire to succeed in a leadership role.

Even if you understand the importance of succession planning, perhaps your reason for not doing it is simply because you don’t know where to start. The process does not have to be rigorous. As with anything, a little guidance can go a long way in getting you off to a great start.

Succession planning begins with two critical steps. The first is to identify what positions to plan for, and the second is to assess your organization’s readiness to get started. To determine which positions to include in your planning efforts, ask yourself whether or not the position:

1. Directly produces revenue and impacts bottom-line financial results;

2. Touches customers;

3. Requires skills needed to develop or deliver a competitive advantage;

4. Involves strategy or product development to create growth opportunities for the company;

5. Encompasses specialized knowledge or unique expertise;

6. Performs a critical task that would stop or hinder vital operations if left vacant.

Now that you’ve identified the positions to include in your plan, it’s time to make sure your organization is ready to support a succession plan once it’s developed. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you financially sustainable?

2. Do you have a strategic plan in place?

3. Is your executive team involved and supportive?

4. Do you have a performance evaluation system in place? Do you use it?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to get started. The remaining steps of succession planning are:

1. Evaluate your future internal hiring needs, required skills, and competencies;

2. Identify and assess potential successors (your high potentials);

3. Create individual development plans for your potential successors to close the gaps between where they are and where you need them to be;

4. Continue to monitor and adjust your plan as needed.

Succession planning isn’t a one-time event. It is a work in progress. Build your organization’s talent pipeline by focusing on employee development, and ensure your sustainability well into the future.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla, SPHR is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at www.jlnick.com.