When an organisation needs a different direction, purpose or new impetus, recruiting from well chosen external pools brings great value. Not least the experience of how other firms organise. However, the best path is the successful development of internal talent pools for future leadership positions. The benefits are significant but succession planning is not easy. Effective programmes are years in their development and require the total commitment of senior leaders.
Succession planning begins with firms identifying and developing high potential employees (HP’s) to meet their future leadership needs. It is a complex, long term process which presents many challenges. Not everyone in your organisation will understand what it takes to evolve. A lack of that self-awareness may, in fact, suggest the person is a strong performer but not an HP. You may see the current talent that you do not want to lose performing well today, but not being suitable for HP development. Leadership development is expensive but not nearly so costly as hiring poorly from external pools.
Identifying true HP’s is tricky, however, there are several characteristics that mark them out. HP’s are authentic, known for their integrity and when they say they will do it, they do it. They know the value of vision and how to get others to buy into it. They stay calm under pressure and do not lose their shape when faced with adversity. They are comfortable seeking support and ensure a sense of safety in the moment for those around them. HP’s see connections as important and develop relationships that ensure mutual benefit.
Effective succession planning requires four key steps: The first step is to work out which are the mission critical positions to the business achieving its future objectives. Other factors to be considered are the specific expertise that the role holder will need to possess or the region in which that person will be based. Succession planning is a long term process and bear in mind, that a HP’s personal interests and circumstances will change over time.
The second step is to develop a detailed analysis of the competencies that will be required for success. These can be influenced by external as well as internal circumstances from technology to geopolitical change. A Gap analysis should be very personalised to the HP in the form of an individual development action plan and reflect the needs of the role being future planned.
The third step is to engage your HP’s in action learning, job rotations, programme leadership and other high-value learning programmes. HP’s and those in executive roles are expected to demonstrate significant stretch potential as compared to other employees. They should generally be able to function well above their current command. The role of a respected mentor or coach to provide feedback and improve proficiency is invaluable during this period.
The final step is to make succession planning a board level discussion and to ensure continuous monitoring of results. Growing your leaders from within has many benefits but it is not without its difficulties; support and oversight from the top are essential to successful results.