How to avoid common succession management blunders and make sure you promote the right people

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Leadership

How to avoid common succession management blunders and make sure you promote the right people

This guest post comes from Halogen customer account manager, Scott Simonini, who shares his thoughts on the importance of succession management and looking beyond your “star performers” for succession development.

‘To plan, or not to plan’?

Just as Hamlet pondered the value of existence, “to be, or not to be,” organizations have struggled to justify the effort-versus-outcome of succession management.

Yet, the collective need for a strategic plan to identify, develop, retain and promote high-potential (HiPo) employees has never been greater.

The first common succession management blunder is to have no plan, or to have one that is ad hoc or outdated. In today’s competitive war for talent, people are touted as a company’s competitive advantage.

And succession management tools and techniques have vastly improved over the last decade, making effective succession management both practical and affordable. So there’s really no excuse to not have an effective succession management program in place, regardless of your company’s size.

Top performers don’t always make the best leaders

The second common succession management mistake is to promote someone based on their performance in their current role.

A great way to understand this blunder is to apply a sports analogy. Just because someone is the best player on your team it doesn’t mean that he or she would be the best coach. Being highly skilled doesn’t mean a player has a deeper understanding of the game and an ability to instill that in others.

And a star player may not have the desire to spend their time coaching and developing others — let alone the skills to do so. To make sure you promote the right people, sometimes you need to look beyond the “first line”.

Consider folks with a different skill-set or perhaps from another department. The critical thing is to identify potential successor who already have the skills and desire needed for success in the role.

Not knowing who your high potentials really are

Companies often make the mistake of thinking their high potentials are the people who get the highest scores on their performance appraisals. What you really need to do is set the criteria for what “potential” means for your organization, and assess employees using that criteria.

Reminder: HiPos aren’t just your “star performers”. They’re the people who demonstrate potential to help your company do great things. They’re the people in your organization who have the capacity to assume greater levels of responsibility or leadership, either upwardly or laterally, and take on more challenging roles.

Understanding the potential of your entire workforce is crucial when it comes to effective succession management. This means knowing who your high-potential employees really are, as well as who might be at risk of leaving your organization.

You also need to take a good long look at your employee data — performance assessments, learning paths, interests and skills, etc. — and use this information to identify those individuals who can help your organization succeed now and in the future, and who want to expand their sphere, take on additional responsibility or a leadership role.

The point here is that the perfect fit for that opening in marketing may be someone who currently works in development. You never know…

Forgetting about talent development for your high potentials

High potential employees tend to be HiPos wherever they work. If you don’t use them, you risk losing them. And one of the best ways to use them and keep them is through succession development.

Once you’ve properly identified your high potentials, you need to assign them to appropriate talent development pools so they can develop the skills, competencies, knowledge and experience needed to support your organization’s future goals. This lets them know they have a future with the company and drives up employee engagement and retention.

Creating talent pools starts with defining the competencies required for success in a given position, job family, or job level. Once those competencies have been defined, and performance levels established, you can identify a set of learning activities or learning paths to help develop these competencies.

It’s also a good idea to assign employees (certainly your HiPos) to more than one pool. By doing this, you cast a wider net across your talent base, can assess employees’ proficiency at competencies beyond their current roles, and can align succession development plans accordingly.

Not identifying your flight risks

How badly would it sting to find out, after the fact, that you might have been able to keep a HiPo from leaving your organization? Or that a simple accommodation (which you would have gladly allowed) would have kept that HiPo highly engaged?

How about being asked by the CEO if an employee leaving your organization had the potential to contribute at a critical/strategic level? Given the ripple effect across the organization caused by a HiPo’s departure, my guess is the sting would be a zinger.

The truth is, most organizations don’t know which of their employees are at risk of leaving; and their high potential employees aren’t likely to volunteer the information.

But you can proactively uncover this information by adding some simple questions to your employee review form. Ask managers to predict an employee’s potential or risk of leaving, to discuss career aspirations with employees, and to make recommendations for talent pool membership. Their predictions won’t be 100% accurate, but you’d be surprised how true they can be.

By leveraging an existing (perhaps mandatory) process, you can begin to really understand who is working for you, their potential to fill key roles in the organization, and how to nurture and engage them as appropriate. And you can be ready to fill their shoes if/when they leave.

Successful succession management is about synergy

If synergy is loosely defined as several things functioning together to produce a result that each on its own wouldn’t obtain, then that’s a good description for effective succession management. It’s using your performance management process, your talent development programs, and your understanding of the current and future needs of your organization to create a leadership and talent pipeline.

For more succession management and talent development best practices read our Succession planning Center of excellence.

Learn How to Put a Best-Practice Succession Program in Place


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Learn How to Put a Best-Practice Succession Program in Place


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