No matter how well a company prepares, the future carries a degree of uncertainty. For this reason, strategic business plans should include a variety of scenarios, particularly in terms of personnel. Employee retention is never guaranteed at any level of the corporate ladder; identifying and developing top talent is essential. Implementing succession planning best practices throughout the company can help employees grow into their full potential.
The Framework of Succession Planning
Succession planning is the process of determining which employees will eventually move up and take over key roles in the company. Identifying potential talent early in their career can help to prepare them for their future roles. Succession planning can be more predictive than other personnel decisions because individuals are being considered for positions with responsibilities they do not currently handle. With cross-training and mentoring, the best employees can be prepared when called upon.
Succession Planning Considerations
In general, all companies (even those with relatively small business volume) should seek out talent to promote and develop. Larger companies often formalize succession planning within their documented, company-wide personnel policies and procedures. When drafting these policies, it's best to keep the following best practices in mind:
Encourage a Forward-Thinking Mindset: A consistent process applied throughout the company will ensure that everyone is focused on the same goals when it comes to succession planning. Rather than asking employees to focus solely on current responsibilities, they should also spend time thinking about their future roles in the company. Career planning is essential at every level in order to match up the best people with future internal job openings.
Increase Company-wide Efforts to Identify Talent: When seeking talent, cast a wide net and promote diversity in working styles. According to Paychex HR Consultant Tione Torrens, individuals involved in succession planning "should have a direct influence on developing and promoting future talent." Encourage rotation within the company to find out if an employee is a better fit in a different role. When the right people are involved in the succession planning process, the chances of finding the best contributors in every line of business increases.
Identify Specific Criteria Needed for Promotion: HR professionals can contribute to succession planning by identifying specific criteria to be used when evaluating potential candidates for promotion. Torrens suggests "an agreed upon system of evaluation, free from emotion." Potential should be a key factor, she adds, as well as an employee's ability to promote the company's mission and values. Because the individual will be taking on additional responsibilities, gather their input as far as willingness to do what it takes to move up. Does the higher position include increased managerial responsibility or overtime expectations? Would the individual need advanced knowledge and are they willing to put in the time for training or education?
Encourage Development through Feedback: As individuals progress into new roles, their skill set needs to broaden. During this crucial time in their career, feedback will be essential. Torrens recommends at least three categories of evaluation:
- Ready to promote to the next level
- Has potential for promotion
- Employee does not currently have the desire or skill set to advance
Once promoted, an individual may become responsible for areas of the company where they've spent little time working in the past. For this reason, succession planning should include opportunities for cross-development throughout an employee's career. Additional exposure to all facets of the business can increase knowledge and help employees make the best decisions for the company.
The implementation of succession planning best practices isn't limited to large companies. Smaller, growing businesses should also think about the future of their team, and work with current employees to ensure that when the time comes, they'll be ready to step up to help the company perform successfully in the future.