How to Develop Employees to Take Over Key Positions

In a way, succession planning of employees is the culmination of career and leadership development. It’s where you identify — from among your developing leaders — individuals who have the most potential and whose movement toward key positions, either laterally or upwardly, you want to accelerate.

A mistake some smaller organizations make is feeling that they aren’t big enough to need to boost their bench strength. Many vacancies can be anticipated and planned for, but not all talent gaps can be foreseen. No matter what your size, you can’t run a business without good people ready to fill potential gaps if they occur.

If you’re not currently thinking about who will fill your shoes (or the shoes of any of your senior managers), then you’re leaving a critical HR responsibility unattended. Succession planning allows you to develop employee skills needed for key leadership positions.

In addition to your general leadership development efforts, you should take the follow steps with succession candidates:

  • Expose them to other parts of the company. For instance, an IT person who spends a month or two learning the ropes from a finance manager will come to understand and appreciate the importance of reducing costs and improving the efficiency of processes, many of which fall under IT’s purview. That broadened perspective makes for a better leader.

  • Offer other training and development. Although you want to offer every employee appropriate training and development opportunities, this is even more critical for succession candidates so they can achieve their full potential. It can include varied work experience, job rotation, specific projects, and other challenging assignments.

    You should monitor progress carefully by evaluating how succession candidates perform in those activities. That way, you know that they’ll be ready when the time comes to move up. International experience or knowledge is among the most difficult to impart. In these cases, an expatriate assignment, wherever practical, may give the best view to nondomestic operations.

  • Consider the next person in line. Succession planning means drawing up plans for more than just the next person up to bat. What if he strikes out? Be clear on success criteria for the future position, and keep things moving by continuing to train others farther down the pipeline.

    If some people seem discouraged that they weren’t selected as heir apparent, encourage them with reminders that they’re still in line for upcoming leadership opportunities. Point out that leadership openings often come out of the blue, so they need to be ready.

  • Make it as much of a nonevent as possible. Succession shouldn’t be viewed as a coup d’état or power grab. When planned well, succession occurs smoothly and systematically. To an outside observer, in fact, it will appear seamless. That is the goal of succession planning — to ensure that the business moves forward without missing a beat, despite a change at the top.

  • Utilize the IDP process. Individual development plans can be particularly useful in succession programs because they’re customized to the individual, allowing you to work with the candidate to set specific goals and the steps needed to reach them.

  • Consider succession planning technology. As with most things in business today, “there’s an app for that.” Succession planning software applications can automate many of the tasks involved in creating a succession plan. In a nutshell, these programs allow you to readily identify upcoming succession requirements and develop necessary training and programs to address those needs.

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