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How to Pinpoint Employee Succession Candidates

Businesses manage employee succession in different ways based on their individual cultures. Most businesses agree that the primary goal is to create a pipeline of talent by offering top performers extra support along their developmental paths. Some corporations have a centralized succession planning function, whereas others empower people or teams throughout the organization to manage the function on their own.

Begin your succession plan by identifying jobs whose role in the overall function of the business are too important to remain in limbo while a search is on for a replacement of some sort. Choices should be driven with an eye on your near-, mid-, and long-term business strategies. President, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and other similar positions are the likeliest candidates.

It’s not all about these high-level executives. Succession in all business-critical roles should be included in your planning. Apply your business-critical eye to all levels in the organization. When compiling your list, talk to others throughout the company to solicit their feedback and ideas.

How to pinpoint current employees for succession

After you’ve selected key positions in which you want to ensure continuity, it’s time to select the individuals from your leadership development efforts who can best fill these roles. This step involves holding discussions with protégées to explain that they’re being singled out for positions of increasing importance, gauging their interest, and getting their buy-in.

When selecting succession candidates, take into account not only skills but also how well individuals work with others throughout the company, particularly when they’ve transitioned into a position of some authority.

Three of the most common missteps in succession planning are understandable byproducts of human nature:

  • Selecting a successor who is a mirror image of his predecessor: It may seem reasonable to think that an individual similar to his predecessor will carry on the history of achievement, but what made one person successful in a job doesn’t necessarily carry over to someone else. Look at the position as it exists today and match the requirements and challenges to the best-qualified candidate.

  • Choosing a successor because her predecessor likes him: Of course, it’s never entirely misdirected to select someone with whom you and others get along, but qualifications and potential are the most important attributes to consider. Again, match job function to the person best suited to that role.

  • Identifying only one successor: Avoid “anointing” someone for a role. Consider multiple candidates.

Companies sometimes discover that high-potential employees aren’t eager to assume senior management roles. Not everyone is comfortable with making the difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions sometimes involved in management. There may also be concerns about work/life balance, travel, office politics, and general stress associated with advancement. Even top performers may not see themselves as potential leaders. By addressing possible barriers, you may be able to encourage reluctant candidates to step forward.

Considerations for external succession selection

Often, timing is what makes the difference in internal or external selection. If you think you have enough time, you may be able to develop an existing employee’s skills. But if your time horizon is shorter, you may need to look for an external candidate who is already somewhat prepared for the role.

Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that person will be able to hit the ground running. He doesn’t already know your business and may need time to mesh with the team and become acquainted with your operations.

With your existing staff, there are potential morale and retention issues to address if you bring someone onboard from the outside. The more open line managers are with their teams in performance and development discussions, the easier staff can accept being passed over at that particular time.

Make sure that existing employees have strong development plans to prepare them for the next opportunity, whether it arrives now or sometime in the future. You also want to make sure that you thoroughly vet the incoming outside leadership candidate. You could encounter morale issues if the identified person is less of a standout than you had assumed.

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