How to Implement an Effective Succession Plan

How to Implement an Effective Succession Plan
People are key to the success of an organization. So, when an employee in any crucial position leaves, there should be someone to step into that role soon.

Organizations take many proactive measures to face disruption and unforeseen circumstances to mitigate various kinds of risks.  There are many unexpected events related to the external and internal environment, including that of human resources; being prepared for all helps in business continuity.

One of the critical challenges is that of talent movement – voluntary and involuntary, retirements, or any unfortunate instance. People are key to the success of an organization. So, when an employee in any crucial position leaves, there should be someone to step into that role soon.  

Hiring and training someone is a time taking process. While it is mostly possible to hold the ground and carry on with essential operations temporarily, to sustain in the long run with high-quality standards, there must be a structured Succession Plan, so that the critical role and functions are not undermined.   

The Need for Succession Planning in Organisations

Succession Planning is essential not only for leadership level or top-level managers but also for all the critical roles irrespective of level or grade; not only for roles where the incumbent is scheduled to retire but also for situations where there could be sudden departure or roles getting vacant overnight due to unavoidable circumstances.  A well-designed Succession Plan in an organization helps develop managers and leaders, who are groomed to take on future roles, whenever they become available. 

Usually planning for a successor is easy for retirals, but if a position becomes vacant overnight due to some untoward incident, grappling with not having anyone to manage that role will put the organization at risk.  Hence the need to identify all critical roles and develop a good Succession Plan.  

Preparing for a Simple yet Effective Succession Plan

Once talent is identified with the potential to become successors, the next step is to invest in learning and development.  Different programs and interventions are required depending on the type of role, level, grade, criticality of the role in the organizational hierarchy, and the timeframe when the successor is to occupy the position.  

Organization can use many models for Talent Review and Succession Planning.  Nevertheless, a very competent internal talent pool will be available when leaders constantly identify members in the team with high potential and develop them.  Apart from that, job rotation within or between departments, reshuffling of responsibilities amongst the team members, or job enhancement will prepare people to manage different roles.  

Once an effective Succession Plan is in place it needs to be evaluated every now and then.  Regular talent reviews, integrating succession planning with annual hiring strategy, talent mapping, focused efforts on L&D, etc., will prepare the organization for smooth transition.  

Strategic Directions in Succession Planning    

1- Giving prominence to internal talent over external hires

It is very rare that identified internal successors are 100% ready for the available roles. However, organizations should create a culture of promoting internal talent. When growth opportunities and career prospects are created, it helps retention of top talent.    

For instance, to create a talent pipeline at CXO levels, designating someone as Dy CXO and developing them for the role is a good strategy as it helps organisation with readily available resources and the employees also are aware that they are being groomed for the next level role.

2- Consider immediate step-in successors apart from long-term successors

For every critical role, there should be a resource who is able to step in that role immediately whenever it becomes vacant.  It is important for smooth functioning without causing any major disruption.  Whenever retirement is known or sometimes possibility of separation is predicted, there is enough time to plan for successors.  

But for sudden vacancies, some employees should be developed as ‘ready step-in successors’ who are able to manage multi-disciplinary tasks providing cushion until long-term successors are identified. 

3- Communicate about the possible future growth prospects to the employees

Bringing transparency is important in Succession Planning.  Having open and honest conversations with employees about a possible higher role and their growth prospects in the organization will set clear expectations.  

It will also throw light to know their aspirations, the extent to which they invest in self-development, and whether there are any possible roadblocks to the plan as successor – for instance, an employee may be highly suitable, but if the role requires relocation or extensive travel and if they are unwilling, it will be a futile exercise and investment.  

4- Strategize investment for developmental needs

While developing leaders for the future, not everyone will be viewed on the same scale. Organizations need to make considerable investments in training employees, so there should be clarity on how limited resources are spent. Some crucial and important roles, developing niche technical skills, dealing with leadership roles, etc., may need more investment compared to other roles in the succession pipeline.  

It can be done based on where the employees are placed in the 9-Box matrix – it helps to invest more in High Performance-High Potential compared or medium performance-high potential rather than Average-Performance-Average Potential or even High Performance-Low Potential. 

5- Assimilate new manager into the new role

Sometimes there may not be an overlap in handing-over/taking-over. In such cases, it is extremely important to assimilate the new managers into the new role.  

Closely monitoring the transition, providing appropriate coaching, mentoring, 360-degree feedback, creating platforms for new managers to connect with the team etc., will help in understanding the role and to deliver responsibilities better.  

Removing Any Possible Roadblocks for Smooth Implementation

A good succession plan is when we can identify right persons for the right future roles, without any biases, familiarity issues, or mixing up potential with performance. Extra care should be taken when the management is looking for successors with employees being present (superannuating cases or preparing ready talent for critical roles).  

Existing employees should not make the learning journey difficult for successors or have issues in handing over the reins. During this period, a lot of support is needed for the new incumbent and constant assurance that things will get right. Thus, making a well-structured succession plan ready for seamless implementation.  


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