President, Leadership Consulting
In sports, winning teams have the right players at every position to tackle challenges, overcome circumstances and march forward with consistency, focus and confidence through it all.
The same formula applies in business. Just like star players switch teams or eventually retire, business leaders move on, too. Who will step up to lead the way?
Ideally, you will have identified, prepared and empowered them to emerge from role players into leaders without missing a beat, whether the transition is expected or abrupt.
Succession planning is crucial for business continuity and risk management. It’s not just the act of naming a new CEO or hiring a manager. To call it a “game plan” would be somewhat misleading, as that implies an immediate time frame. Long-term succession planning is a strategic, ongoing initiative of building your “bench” – a lineup of leaders-to-be – through talent development, training and recruiting.
Here’s what positioning your organization for success in the future looks like in the present:
Advancement in your company is as vague or defined as you make it. The latter is better for succession planning because clear paths to leadership positions align employees’ wants with their companies’ needs. In contrast, the fuzzy opportunity to “move up” leaves many unanswered questions for all parties. When you’re developing someone for a specific role, you can measure and reward performance more effectively. Meanwhile, the employee knows what the goal is and has a stronger sense of purpose, progression and trajectory, without having to look elsewhere for a rewarding job. The individual is aware of “what’s in it for them” and it ties in with what matters to you.
For decades, leadership teams have used talent reviews to discuss and determine promotions. These closed-door meetings are still useful today, but in fast-growing companies and rapidly evolving industries, the purpose of the talent review has changed. Instead of taking a companywide approach and establishing a track for every employee, organizations are focusing on a handful of important leadership roles and reverse engineering their personnel, talent pipeline and recruitment to identify and invest in the right people for those roles. In the process, it becomes clear which positions are most critical to a company’s success. Those are the positions to prioritize when building your bench.
A well-written success profile for a given leadership role can provide helpful guidance for succession planning by reducing the inherent subjectivity in talent reviews. Too often, managers are rating employees on intangibles rather than objectively evaluating their potential to advance. Success profiles provide the framework to match core competencies and behaviors with dedicated responsibilities that help the company succeed, which can help streamline the talent search. Specificity and objectivity are a powerful combination for any organization that wants to mold the leaders of tomorrow.
High performance and high potential are not always one and the same. An employee’s performance confirms their ability to fulfill their current role, while their potential suggests their capability to excel in a larger role. With dramatic shifts in the way people work and teams collaborate, some traditional indicators of high potential, such as agility, are now baseline qualifications across the board. Other qualities, such as empathy, have emerged to redefine leadership. In the context of succession planning, high potential is no longer a search to replicate a predecessor’s skills. It’s a chance to consider how emerging leaders’ unique skills and diverse backgrounds will not just sustain, but shape, a company’s future.
Where is your business headed, what skills do you need and do you have the key players who are poised to become leaders? These questions can create even more questions before you ultimately arrive at answers. Those answers may lead to internal promotions, new hires or both. In any event, succession planning takes serious time, effort and resources, leading many companies to leave it on the to-do list for years while dealing with day-to-day concerns.
Identifying even a small handful of future leaders can be a large and time-consuming project. That’s why many companies look to an executive search and consulting firm to provide the tools, programs, insights and top candidates that enable organizational and succession planning success.