3 Steps to Smooth Succession Planning


This year’s presidential election is the ultimate example of succession planning. However, most government agencies and organizations won’t have their new boss selected by millions of voters, but rather a board of directors, HR professionals, and various stakeholders. So how exactly does succession planning work when the electoral college isn’t involved? What are some best practices and trends? Read on to find out.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is the art of finding or developing new talent to replace exiting members of your workforce. As a best practice, it should not be limited to an agency’s senior members; a true succession planning strategy should be agency-wide.

Succession planning occurs in two forms. You can look to replace departing employees by recruiting externally and crossing your fingers that qualified talent with the right desired competencies you’re looking for is out there. A benefit to an external candidate is that they often bring in fresh ideas and can reinvigorate your team. Downsides to outside candidates are that your dream worker may not exist, searching is expensive and taxes HR resources, and mission success gets further and further away the longer the desk remains empty.

If you wish to fill a role internally, you’ll have to look among your own team to see who has the right skills to step into an open role, which can be challenging considering an organization’s talent pool is much smaller than the external one. Looking for internal talent may be a less exhaustive process than looking externally, since internal hires already know the culture and are typically more productive more quickly.

The 3 steps for succession planning

The first step in planning for succession is establishing the competencies and skill sets required for every role in your company. This way, when you have to fill a vacancy, your in-depth knowledge of what’s needed at each level will help guide your recruiting approach.

Step two is to make your performance reviews part of the succession conversation. Step two-and-a-half is to ditch your ‘annual’ performance reviews in favor of more frequent check-ins. This enables managers to better set goals and track their progress, assess workers’ capabilities, and align their team’s individual aspirations with those of their agency. Match these reviews with profiles in employee portals; these offer a more in-depth view into past achievements and future goals.

The last phase in planning for succession is to strategically offer employees the learning and development opportunities that can help them prepare for more senior roles. For example, if you know your agency’s spokesperson is going to retire at the end of the year, start offering relevant training based on established competencies to the deputy spokesperson so they can more easily take over the position when the time comes.

Is succession limited to just one candidate?

Absolutely not! In fact, you may want to consider creating talent pools of external and internal talent to maximize your ability to have a qualified person step into a vacancy.

Leverage your recruiting software to build groups of external candidates you can monitor from afar and engage if/when the time is right. Further utilize your talent management tools with internal candidates to build a pool of employees whose skills and aspirations put them in striking distance of more senior roles (or lateral moves). Offer them relevant training, and more than likely, a top choice will naturally present itself.

Succession planning takes a little legwork, but as the saying goes, failing to plan means planning to fail. Organizations shouldn’t wait until there is a vacancy to figure out how to fill it. Establish competencies for each role, make performance reviews more frequent (and meaningful) than just once a year, and offer L&D modules to train candidates and talent pools for more senior roles.

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