Succession Planning–Part 3: How It’s Done

In our Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on succession planning, we’ve discussed why you should have a plan and what you might think about when you start to put that plan together. In today’s post we want to talk a little bit about how to actually get things done.

First, think carefully about when you need succession. Understand the events that could create such a situation. There are more cases than you think. Sometimes people retire, and sometimes they leave when you’re not prepared for it. There are the now-and-then extended absences, like during parental leave, sabbatical, or disability. And then there are always those sudden events, like when a key employee wins the lottery and decides to move to an island in the South Seas.

Once you understand when you might need succession, then you’re ready to build that plan. As a quick reminder, we suggested that the major parts of your plan include:

  • Hiring solid people
  • Matching ‘em up to your succession needs
  • Developing these people in a thoughtful way, and
  • Providing coaching and mentoring

So how do you hire the best? First, be patient; there are many, many decently qualified candidates, but remember that you’re not out to “fill a slot,” but to improve the organization. Have a clear set of requirements. Don’t let short-term business needs trump long-term talent needs. Set the bar high. It’s important to create a culture of “only the best,” one where managers and staff alike come to expect the best—and learn how to identify such people when they meet them. Consider investing in some training for your managers so that they know how to interview. The better they are, the better will be your company’s hiring decisions.

Make sure that you assess your jobs. Which ones really need successors? (Hint—it’s probably fewer than you think—many just need some good knowledge-capture and knowledge-transfer planning.) For those that do need succession, define the roles carefully and, importantly, figure out the kinds of personal and professional capabilities that lead to success in those roles. Use simple tools to keep track of these positions.

Now do the same with your best people. Don’t just assess their skills, assess the whole person. Are they the type of people who will rise to the challenge? Who love learning and growth? Who aspire to career advancement? Not everyone does, after all, but those who do should be mapped to the roles that you think they can fill—if not now, then within a year or two. (Remember, we said this was a long-term planning process!)

Use straightforward tools to figure out who should be in the plan. You can triage using a simple model to create a short list of “high potential” candidates.  You want people you can trust, and people who can trust others. You want people who sit in the upper right of the “9 Box,” people in whom you see potential, but who are also good—even exceptional—performers today.

Then map: this is simple, but not easy. The biggest danger is not being intensely critical of all your decisions. Put decision makers—including managers and senior managers—into a room and have them both advocate and challenge the decisions as you make them. It’s crucial to get this right, because you’re about to invest time, energy—and money—into the people who end up on these charts! Remember, this isn’t just putting names next to job descriptions—this is planning your company’s FUTURE!  And while we don’t have a crystal ball, we do have our own intelligence. Now’s the time to make the very best HR decisions you can!

And once you’ve done that, then what? Develop, train, coach, and mentor.  This means finding both formal and informal mechanisms for developing not only job skills, but leadership skills. That means working simultaneously on increasing capabilities in all spheres: practical, interpersonal, professional, creative, logical, and more.  The best way to do this, of course, is to have both training programs and mentoring programs in your company, and then to augment these programs with assessment-based coaching. (More on that topic another time.)

Then lather, rinse and repeat! The beauty of a program like this one is that when you hire and develop the best people you possibly can, they, in turn, recognize the value in hiring and developing the best people they possibly can. The result? A “virtuous cycle” of continuous improvement.

What do you think? How is the succession planning program going in your organization?

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