In part two, Darcy Jacobsen, content analyst and blogger for Globoforce, offers six succession planning tools and tips on how to develop a sound plan.

According to the 2014 Report on Senior Executive Succession Planning and Talent Development published by IED and Stanford Business School, here are the Six Key Elements of Successful Succession Planning:

  1. Strategic Planning – Determine what capabilities, roles, and talent are needed to execute the business strategy today and in the future.
  2. Talent Assessment – Gauge the executive team’s bench strength. Do we have who we need (now and in future) and if not, how do we get there?
  3. Recruiting – Develop a talent pipeline for key roles/jobs.
  4. Performance Assessment – Let people know they are valued contributors and provide them opportunities for development, exposure to executives, networking across divisions, etc. (Get them on the corporate radar screen.)
  5. Development – Create development plans for individuals. (e.g., leadership workshops, classes, on-the-job learning, assignments, special projects, 360s, external classes, etc.)
  6. Retention and Engagement – Rewards and recognition, work environment, opportunities for development, job autonomy and scope of responsibilities, etc.

This is fantastic advice, but it may not have gotten you any closer to implementation. If you’re like most companies, there are three underlying challenges that are preventing you from putting that plan into practice. They sound like this:

  • How do we identify and assess succession candidates and HiPos in the first place?
  • What are the components of a development plan that keeps them engaged and onboard?
  • How do we track their work performance and growth over time?

Here are five brass-tacks tips we can offer for overcoming those challenges:

  • Stop talking in generalities. What is the definition of “high potential” in your organization? Not the Wikipedia definition. YOUR definition. Your culture is unique, and so is your leadership style. If you have not defined what it means to be high-potential–specifically at your company–how can you expect people to execute on that? This paper from Kenan Flagler Business School at UNC includes some nice case studies, and did find some commonalities among the competencies organizations look for in their high-potential candidates. 70 percent of respondents looked for future performance potential and 69 percent looked for strategic thinking ability. Other criteria included a drive for results, current and sustained performance, culture fit, and commitment to the organization. Ultimately, though, the definition has to come organically from your own company culture.
  • Use recognition data to find your HiPos. This is the single best piece of original advice I have in this article. Want to find your best future leaders? Look at who your employees are already recognizing as informal leaders. Performance management cannot always discern high performance from high potential. According to the Corporate Leadership Council, only 29 percent of high performers are also high-potential employees. If you want to see who the informal leaders in your organization are, look at the recognition work circles. Those people who are in the center of them? Those are the people who have the biggest influence on your company. Chances are, all of your future leaders are there.
  • Be more incremental. Many companies focus all of their planning on their chief executives, and go no further. Succession planning cannot be for the CEO alone and focusing all your attention only on getting people to the top spot can be paralyzing. Creating a healthy talent pipeline means developing at all levels. As former Campbell’s Soup leader Doug Conant recently shared in an interview: “To succeed in an enduring way, you must develop well-rounded leaders who can work in a frenetic environment. If you’re not looking forward, watch out. Even the mighty will fall. While the CEO manages succession, the board needs to champion the development of talent. Leaders change, markets change, and it’s hard to find and maintain an enduring proposition without an enduring stream of talent.” Instead of worrying about getting the elite on a direct track to the C-suite, concentrate more of your succession efforts on simply getting a pipeline full of people with leadership potential.
  • Use positive feedback as a development tool. There’s a raging debate out there about whether or not you should tell your HiPos that they are being developed for leadership. No matter which side you fall on, it is critical to make these employees feel that you are developing and valuing them. Positive feedback is critical to this process, and it will keep HiPo employees feeling aligned, engaged, and relevant. I think this CCL paper has some other terrific insights into what specifically companies are doing for development of HiPos, and how HiPos feel about it. Note the word “cloud” on page 13 of the CCL paper. HiPos equate their identification with recognition, so it is important to continue that reciprocal process throughout their development.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Identifying candidates and throwing development their way isn’t enough. You need to assess, track, and continually evaluate their progress. Mentoring is a fantastic method for both development and assessment, because it puts someone on the ground with the candidate who is focused on their progress and well-positioned to judge their progress. Performance evaluations are also important, of course; but again, recognition can be an invaluable tool to give you insight into how those identified future leaders are performing, and how valid that assessment continues to be. There’s some good advice in this Aon Hewitt paper on both initial identification and ongoing assessment of succession candidates.

I hope as you seek to transform your organization’s succession plan into one that’s a cut above the competition.

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