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Succession Planning: Why and Where to Begin
By Inga Nelson, CPHR
Succession planning has a lot to do with demographics in North America. As a whole, the working population is getting older, simply because we are living longer and because we are having smaller families. That has led to leadership and professional gaps – many middle managers, executives and even specialized professionals are or soon will be eligible for retirement -- hence the need for gap analysis.
As per a CPS Human Resource Services whitepaper, there is a seven step model for developing a ‘competency-based succession planning program’, which I will outline below. www.cpshr.us/workforceplanning/documents/GapCloseTool7SuccPlanning.doc
1. Obtain leadership support:
Start by drafting up a chart of the company’s current middle management, executive roles and even specialized professionals. Then draft a chart of what that will look like in five years with an eye on who is nearing retirement. Look for the company’s talent pool, if any, for possible successors – is there a gap? Would building a talent pool be helpful to fill in the gap or gaps? Now you have documents to utilize when approaching leadership for their support to develop a succession planning program.
2. Assemble a developmental team (albeit one or two, depending on the company’s size):
When assembling the developmental team, keep in mind the team will likely be involved from the inception of the program right through to its evaluation at the end. The program is bound to need tweaking. Therefore the team needs to be adaptable in order to handle the stresses that can arise, such as training that takes a person away from their regular tasks and duties. The team could look at how job responsibilities are managed when that person is away during vacation, and use a similar strategy if the person is unavailable during training.
3. Identify the leadership gaps:
Gaps can be created by various sources for not only leaders and managers but also for specialized professionals. Of course, there are some obvious causes such as expected upcoming retirements, eligible retirements, and internal promotions. However, the team must also examine the possibility of an unexpected loss of a leader or of a specialized professional, and what impact this would have.
4. Assess the preparedness of current staff to assume those roles:
When assessing which employee has the most or the best skill sets to succeed the leader/manager/specialist, a logical first step is to ask the person currently doing the job for input on the matter. Ask that person to elaborate on what competencies the candidate would need to be successful, and if any employees already have all or some of those skill sets.
5. Identify high-potential employees:
Of course, when selecting candidates, the team must be mindful to avoid a poisoned environment of perceived ‘favouritism’. Lest we forget, job descriptions are a good source for required skill sets and are an unbiased method of selection. Depending on the ‘economy of size’, there are some organizations that create an ‘acceleration pool’ of high potential employees – people with top performance reviews along with existing pertinent skill sets.
6. Detect their strengths and needs for development:
Identifying strengths and needs can be done by interviewing the candidate, by interviewing their manager, and by looking at past performance reviews (especially 360 degree reviews). If the search is for potential leaders, then don’t forget to look for emotionally intelligent people. These people handle stress and challenges well, smile often, and are optimistically open-minded. They are confident and connect well with others. Remember -- someone from your talent pool may be leading you in the near future!
7. Select and employ strategies to step up developing these employees:
Various methods can be used to instruct potential candidates. Mentoring is certainly one option available. Another option is to actually assign a short-term project in the area that the employee has no experience: this could be linked to an ‘Action Learning’ team working on recommendations for senior management. Sometimes classroom training can provide the developmental needs an employee is lacking.
With an acceleration pool, instead of preparing individuals for a particular job, they are developed through training with competencies that are pertinent to more than one higher level position. This way when an opening appears, the organization has less of a gap to deal with.
In conclusion, no organization can afford to ignore the future of their high-impact job roles. Succession planning is all about avoiding gaps in those roles. Human Resources professionals have the tools to identify and eliminate these gaps. Take action today, and create a competency-based succession plan. Begin with a gap analysis chart, and then get leadership buy-in to move forward with a plan. By taking steps right away to identify candidates and to develop their skills over time, it can ensure having the right fit for leadership roles and specialized roles tomorrow.
About the Author: Inga Nelson is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) and a member of CPHR of Alberta. Her expertise encompasses 18 years of HR Generalist practice with a family business (30 employees) that distributes internationally. Inga also holds a Human Resources Management Certificate from the University of Calgary.
If you would like to chat more about this topic with Inga, connect with her on Linkedin.