3 Critical Elements of a High Impact Succession Plan

Businesses have spent the last several years navigating “unprecedented” and “uncertain” times. There are enough curveballs nowadays that organizations must plan for the inevitable changes they know are coming.

One of the first places HR leaders can be proactive is through succession planning. According to Deloitte, only 14% of leaders feel their organization does succession planning well. That’s a problem not just for the C-Suite, but for the entire organization.

Succession planning is typically thought of as a C-suite only endeavor. At its most basic form, it’s the chain reaction set in place. Like how the vice president of the U.S. is designated to succeed the president. But succession planning should be more than risk mitigation for your top executives exiting. And more than just a directive from boards and regulatory agencies. It should be part of your holistic approach to employee development and integrated into your workplace culture.

A good succession plan should identify and develop top talent by linking business planning to employee performance, development, and engagement. Doing this helps you create a culture of employee success that leads to business success.


Find the Right People

Glassdoor calculates that U.S. employers spend about $4,000 on each outside hire, with an average 24-day timeframe to hire. Remember, this is average. Depending on the level of the position, this cost and time to hire could increase.

But with a solid succession plan in place, you can save time and money by promoting from within. It also could save you money by being less likely to mis-hire. That money can be used elsewhere, like on development opportunities.

Your succession plan should:

  • Be flexible
  • Identify key successors
  • Pinpoint what they need to be successful
  • Align with the future plans of the organization

Many times, there are multiple people being developed depending on what the organization’s needs are at the time a role opens.

Having people on standby to succeed your leadership also helps you build an exit strategy for current executives. It gives them an opportunity to shape the future of the organization by sharing institutional knowledge and showing them the organization has their best interests at heart.

Connect Growth and Engagement to Benefit the Organization

You already know growth conversations can be difficult without a plan to guide them. Imagine having a plan that shows each employee how they can be successful in their organization. The key to leveraging a succession plan as part of your path to employee success is connecting performance, development, and engagement.

Your succession plan should:

  • Guide training and development in the organization
  • Identify skills employees need to be successful as they move across the career lattice
  • Connect development plans with potential role fits

When we develop talent from within, why do we introduce top performers to new hires? So that new hires emulate the traits we want. So that they grow into the role. Then we mimic those tactics as individual contributors become supervisors and managers.

This is true across the organization for every position. It’s not just beneficial for upward progression, but also lateral movement. An organization-wide succession plan opens doors for employees up the career ladder and across the lattice .

That’s the beauty of an effective succession plan. The organization gets more choices as it grows and needs talent. But succession planning is a benefit for employees too.

Quantum Workplace research shows one of the primary reasons employees leave their organizations is due to lack of career growth. By investing in your own employees, you are creating an engaged workforce, fully dedicated to the organization.

Move from Tactical to Strategic

A succession plan is business planning at its finest. This transforms the HR leader from reactive maintenance to proactive action. You don’t want to be left scrambling when a leader announces their departure. You want to make solid decisions.

A good succession plan connects all of your data so that you’re relying on more than a gut instinct. When your succession planning decisions are fed by data from your talent reviews, goal progress, and other performance and growth measures, it’s easier to understand the big picture and take data-informed action. Connecting all of your data in one place gives you an over-arching strategy to employee and business success.

It’s also linked with other HR and business strategies. Your plan should:

  • Identify skill gaps across the organization.
    • Do you have a role that doesn’t have a successor?
    • Is the identified successor a match for multiple roles?
  • Assess successor readiness.
    • Is the successor missing any performance or growth goals?
    • Are they ready for a stretch project?
  • Connect with DEI goals.
    • How does your future talent line up with your diversity and inclusion initiatives?
    • Do you need higher generational, gender, or ethnic diversity on your leadership team?
  • Promote progression.
    • Does it give you a view of the big picture and connect to business goals?
    • Is it shaped to optimize business continuity?
  • Evolve continuously.
    • Are you using a static document like a spreadsheet or presentation file to track your succession plan instead of a dashboard that is always up-to-date?
    • Is your plan ready for immediate implementation?

Your succession plan should be more than just checking the box for regulators and investors. It should help you connect the dots throughout your people strategies. When you create a comprehensive succession plan, it not only achieves business success, but helps to build a culture of employee success.

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