What Every Manager Needs to Know About Succession Planning

Succession Planning Ensures You Have Employees Prepared for Roles

Group clapping during a meeting where the promotion of an employee is announced.
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Succession planning is the process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company. In this process, you ensure that you will never have a key role open for which another employee is not prepared. This is also significant as you develop your talent bench strength within your organization.

Sure, you will have an occasional situation arise for which you are unprepared, but for the vast majority of employee movement, your succession plan is in place. You will have had a systematic process for preparing employees to fill key roles as they become vacant.

Importance of Recruiting

Through your succession planning process, you recruit superior employees, develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepare them for advancement or promotion into ever more challenging roles in your organization.

The preparation for the employee's next role may also include transfers to different jobs or departments and on-the-job shadowing, so the employee has a chance to observe various jobs in action.

Actively pursuing succession planning ensures that employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role in your organization. As your organization expands, loses key employees, provides promotional job opportunities, and increases sales, your succession planning guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill the new roles.

Who Needs Succession Planning?

All organizations, no matter their size, need succession planning. While it is less likely that you will have potential successors for every role in a ten-person company, you can minimally cross-train.

Cross-training ensures that employees are prepared to babysit the key job when the employee resigns. This keeps responsibilities from falling through the cracks. This will keep the mission on track if a key employee leaves. It's not as effective as having a fully trained employee, but that is not always possible for every role.

Filling Succession Roles

Many companies have not introduced the concept of succession planning in their organizations. Others plan informally and verbally for succession for key roles. By this type of process, for example, Eric is identified as the strongest player on Mary's team so he is likely to succeed Mary when she is promoted or leaves.

In other conversations, senior leadership teams put forth the names of employees they believe are strong players with great potential in their organizations. This helps other senior leaders know who is available for potential promotion or reassignment when they are looking for an employee to fill a key role.

The advantage of a more formalized system is that the organization exhibits more of a commitment to mentor and develop the employee so that they are ready to take over. In the above example of Eric taking over Mary's role if she leaves or is promoted, developing his skills is a priority.

Organizationally, it allows all managers to know who the key employees are in all areas of the organization. This allows them to consider strong players when any key role opens up.

Advantages for Employees

Employees who know that the next role awaits them receive a boost to self-esteem and self-respect. This enhances their efficacy and value as an employee. Knowing the organization's plans for your next potential opportunity—and that there is one—reinforces your desire for career development and career opportunities. This development is one of the areas that employees want most from their employers.

You can identify the skills, experience, and development opportunities necessary to help the employee become prepared for progression when the next job opportunity turns up. The employee benefits from the ability to work with their manager or supervisor to make sure that the employee has a career plan that moves them in the direction of their next opportunity. This person is key to an employee's ability to get the experience and education needed for career progression.

The employee's value is shared with the rest of the organization so that if an opportunity comes up, the managers can consider the employee to fill the role. In an informal system, managers organization-wide may not know the value of the employee and their skills. (Even if the current manager has shared this information, in a busy world it's tough to remember.)

Advantages for Employers

You rely on staff to carry out the mission and the vision and to accomplish the goals of the organization. The loss of a key employee can undermine your ability to accomplish these important objectives. You need prepared employees to step into roles as your company grows and expands its offerings and services. Or, your lack of developed employees will stymie your growth plans.

The need to have replacement employees ready if you decide to promote employees or redesign your organization enables you to make necessary changes without being hampered by a lack of replacements. This will also help if you are concerned about your ability to recruit new employees who have a specific skill set.

SHRM's report, "The Global Skills Shortage," indicates 75% of those having recruiting difficulty say there is a shortage of skills in candidates for job openings. Additionally, 83% of their respondents have had trouble recruiting suitable candidates in 2018.

Knowledge About Employees Is Shared

Knowledge about key, skilled, contributing employees is shared with managers organization-wide. This information allows managers to consider the widest number of candidates for any open job. It also emphasizes with your employees that your organization provides the career development opportunities they seek.

While predicting the future is difficult following the high unemployment caused by closings and lockdowns in 2020, your oldest employees were in the process of retiring. They are taking with them 30-40 years of knowledge, experience, working relationships, and information.

But, interestingly, this trend seemed to have changed in 2018 when TLR Analytics reported that, "Of the 2.9 million jobs gained over the year, nearly half, 49%, came from workers aged 55 and over, over twice their share of the workforce."

Moving forward, these trends may change—or not. Nevertheless, employers who have adopted an effective succession planning system will be prepared for any recruiting environment.

According to SHRM, "research on preparing for an aging workforce has found that less than 40% of HR professionals said their employers were analyzing the impact of workers over the age of 55 leaving their organizations in the next 10 years." 

You want to capture that knowledge before it walks out of your door. Effective, proactive succession planning leaves your organization well prepared for all contingencies. Successful succession planning builds bench strength.

Develop Employees for Succession Planning

To develop the employees you need for your succession plan, you can use such practices as lateral moves, assignment to special projects, team leadership roles, and both internal and external training and development opportunities.

Through your succession planning process, you also retain superior employees because they appreciate the time, attention, and development that you are investing in them. Employees are motivated and engaged when they can see a career path for their continued growth and development. According to SHRM, employees value job enrichment, flexibility, and career development more than they value job security and stability.

To effectively do succession planning in your organization, you must identify the organization’s long-term goals. You must hire superior staff.

The Bottom Line

You need to identify and understand the developmental needs of your employees. You must ensure that all key employees understand their career paths and the roles they are being developed to fill. You need to focus resources on key employee retention. You need to be aware of employment trends in your area to know the roles you will have a difficult time filling externally.