HR’s Guide to Succession Planning

The times are changing in ways most people were not expecting. Recent events have managed to cause many businesses to become blindsided by significant unexpected events that lead to all sorts of changes within a company. The introduction of COVID-19 caused many companies to adapt in ways they were not prepared to and led to changes in the workplace that most people have come to enjoy and expect in future companies.

Business leaders have become more proactive in the future-proofing their companies to deal with almost any unexpected event that may occur in the future. One way they are going about this is by considering where employees are going to find themselves in the coming years. The workforce holds a significant role in driving the organization forward and helps the business achieve its mission goals. 


The importance of talented employees

The top-notch talent provided by your employees is something you want to retain as long as possible. Having them leave for another company will not only benefit your competitors but cause your organization's overall success to slow down, or worse. The employee that left your organization may have held a crucial role in your company, leading to a disruption in your company's overall performance. 

Unfortunately, finding skilled workers can be a challenging feat for most businesses. It can take months before you can even get someone of the same caliber as the employee that decides to leave your company. A recent study published by Deloitte discovered that it takes more than 90 days to recruit a highly experienced worker. That is a pressing cause of concern for many companies since most of them may not be able to last that long without filling in the business-critical role. 

Of course, it is possible to mitigate these issues if you take the time to set up a sturdy succession plan. Instead of wasting time searching for fresh talent from a job board, a succession plan ensures that you already have someone in your organization with the skills and drive to take over that newly opened position. 

For this guide, let’s go over everything you need to know about a succession plan. 


What Is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a process that allows you to identify and develop future leaders to assume critical roles in the organization should an employee holding that position decide to leave the company. While organizations do make plans for several employee departures, such as when an employee retires or takes maternity leave, most will not be. 

If one of your employees under a critical role decides to leave the company voluntarily, you will need to come up with a contingency plan that ensures you can swiftly fill in their position and maintain the organization's overall performance. Situations like these are where succession planning holds a critical role. 

Remember, succession planning is not the same as career planning, which involves mapping out all the potential roles an employee may hold in a company as they progress through their careers. Another thing you need to remember is that succession planning is not only suitable for executive roles. It’s highly recommended that you use it for any position that you consider crucial to your organization's success or a role that requires a vast amount of technical skills and experience. 

Now that you have an idea of what succession planning is, let’s go over what steps you need to take to implement a succession planning process for your organization.


Why is succession planning necessary?

No matter what industry you are in, all businesses can benefit from succession planning. Employee succession plans are here to deal with any changes that happen when employees get promoted. It’s smart to have an employee on board that knows the business and the role ready to transfer over into a position when it becomes available. The only other option you’ll have is either leaving a wide gap or someone else taking on two roles instead of the one they already have. 

Succession planning also aims to keep hold of your most valuable assets within your company. The process attempts to attract and retain top talent in your organization and build them through established development efforts. It also boosts the availability of experienced employees with the potential to take over specific roles should they become open. 

Implementing succession planning within your organization also opens up a way to create opportunities that ensure your current top-notch employees remain engaged and retain their talents. Succession planning can also help establish better opportunities for promotions and development within your company. That results in a better, more efficient workforce to deliver on the company’s goals. 


How to set up a succession planning process

Finding the right people to take charge of your organization is crucial to the overall success of your business. Succession planning isn’t something you only conduct one-time; you need to ensure it remains an ongoing process that offers security in the event of an unexpected departure, a transition plan for management handover, and a method for creating a pipeline of leadership talent. 

Come up with several plans to identify and develop future leaders at all levels. Ensure the programs you make can address any inevitable changes that happen when an employee leaves the company by offering training to potential employees for advancement into critical roles. 

Integrating a succession planning model into your HR function secures your assets within the organization and prepares you for the time when key players decide to leave. Understanding the value behind leadership development and succession planning grants a company the momentum to march forward with minimum interruptions, positioning for a better outcome. 

Here are the essential steps for developing a succession planning process for your organization. 

Identify future needs

The first thing you want to do is create a clear outline of the goals behind your succession planning strategy. Make sure that you look over your whole company, your managers, and ways that you can grow critical talent once cataloged.

Get everyone in a senior leadership position involved from the start. Make the senior leaders a part of the decision-making processes to ensure everyone is on the same page. That way, the plan can be enacted when required. You need to make sure that this process remains an ongoing process. It should never become a one-time deal and continue to grow and evolve. 

Perform a job analysis

When one of your employees leaves the company, they are taking that much-needed knowledge and skills with them. In some ways, you can see it as a positive sign that you have developed them in the best possible way. But when it does happen, it can cause a gap to appear in your company. Depending on the former employee's role, it can take a while to close that gap. 

The departed employee is involved in a complicated ecosystem, and the real impact behind their contributions may not be apparent until after they have left. Instead of replacing these key individuals, take a more proactive stance. 

Take this moment to analyze what is required to attain key roles to ensure the pipeline for talent is always available whenever the need arises. These behaviors and skills need to be recorded within your succession planning template to build transparency within your succession planning model. Assess which knowledge and skills are necessary for the potential to ensure promotion or hiring is suitable when the time comes. 

Choose and invite potential candidates

When you have established the skills and strengths needed for a position, it's time to search for a candidate or pool of candidates you can train to take over the role should it ever be vacated. For this part, look at your employee's performance review score or behavioral assessments to identify the best performers. 

Another crucial part is to talk to these employees and see if the position in question is something they are interested in. Do not waste time and money training someone whose career aspirations align in another direction.

At this point, you may realize that you don’t have the internal talent required to fill in a specific role. If that’s the case, then don’t worry. Discerning this early on can assist you in creating a long-term internal training program that addresses the company's skills gap and helps you prepare for external recruiting efforts. Consider writing down a job description and setting up a shortlist of qualified candidates. That way, you are equipped to deal with an employee leaving your company. 


Investing in employee training and development

Once you get to this stage, it's time you start teaching and facilitating the experience your employees require to ensure they successfully take over the role in the future. There are several ways you can pull this off, and it will largely depend on your organization. Here are some of the most popular employee development strategies. 

Training courses

If your company has already established a learning and development strategy, you can supplement your existing program with a new training program specifically designed for succession planning. That could mean introducing new classrooms or e-learning training courses that teach in-demand skills.

You also have the option to assign employees stretch assignments to help them go through a hands-on approach to learning and practicing new skills. That may involve improving an area your company is struggling with, owning a new product release, or organization a company-wide event. These assignments can be anything that ensures your employees work outside of their typical job responsibilities and provides you with a way to see how their skills hold up when dealing with new challenges. 


Setting up a mentoring option will allow your employees to tap into the knowledge and expertise of their coworkers. It also has the potential to accelerate their learning and growth. A published report by ATD research reveals that 83% of companies incorporate mentoring into their succession plans, making it one of the more valuable methods for developing succession candidates. Mentors can help employees identify and develop their strengths and weaknesses, offer sound advice, and guide them through their professional development. 

Job shadowing

Sometimes you may find yourself fortunate to find out that one of your key employees has decided to depart from the company. If that's the case, this is an excellent opportunity to have them shadowed by the employee who will take over their role. Job shadow offers a valuable opportunity for the employee to learn from their predecessor. They can trail the current senior leader and learn the ins, and out of the role, they will soon take over. 

This method is quite valuable if one of your key employees is about to retire. The opportunity to have their replacement work alongside them means your organization can retain the corporate knowledge and domain expertise that helped move the company forward. 

Job rotation

Lastly, you could consider giving the employees a chance to learn while on the job. Job rotation transfers employees into various roles within the organization and enables them to familiarize themselves with varying aspects of the company. The rotation you set up can last for either a couple of days or as long as a few months to give your employees enough time to learn a different side of the business and acquire skills that could serve them well in the future.

Succession planning is critical for the success of a business in the long run. It helps you recognize the value of key roles within a functioning business, the necessity of knowledge and skills within your organization and prepares you for the time when employees inevitably leave your company for several reasons. Succession planning ensures that your organization is never caught unaware through a well-established model in place. It diminishes recruitment and onboarding costs while securing your business by establishing a process for filing critical leadership and management roles within your organization.

Without establishing a succession plan for your organization, you will see a decline in your business efficiency, leading to a long-term detriment for achieving your company objectives. It can leave your company with gaps in knowledge, skills, expertise, and talent. Understanding the necessity and significance of a succession plan within your company can save you from dealing with any potential side effects caused by the lack of top-notch talent. If you are looking for an excellent HR tool, check out ours today.  

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Tags: HR, Business 101

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