Katja Schipperheijn on Important Steps of Succession Planning

Katja Schipperheijn on Important Steps of Succession Planning
Succession planning is no longer a strategic, often annual, exercise from the highest echelons of the organisation, but a vision of continuous talent development. This in turn has other positive effects that strengthen the employer brand.

In Conversation with Katja Schipperheijn on Important Steps of Succession Planning

Katja Schipperheijn is an internationally recognised author, learning strategist, guest lecturer, and keynote speaker on innovations that support learning and knowledge sharing from the symbiosis of humans and machines to achieve sustainable growth with a focus on engagement and well-being.

As an author, Katja gained international recognition with her inspiring and thought-provoking book Learning Ecosystems in which she does not shy away from hypes such as the Metaverse nor subscribes to old dogmas about learning and learning strategies. With this new book, she offers insights and tools that support a future-oriented strategy to grow from continuous improvement, together with employees, the organisation and society.

Besides her experience with multinationals, learning institutions and start-ups, Katja is also a philanthropist and author of Little Digital Citizens (Digitale Burgertjes published in Dutch) . More than 15,000 children have already participated in workshops about self-development and the future in an increasingly virtual world.

Q- In the current scenario, how do you see the seriousness of organization’s in Succession Planning?

Succession planning is and will become increasingly important in times of accelerated change. Not only to anticipate the (unexpected) departure of employees and managers, but even more so to anticipate these changes in a nimble and sustainable way. In this reality, succession planning is therefore not just a strategic (annual) exercise, but an important part of the talent management process and continuous improvement.

With what learning ecosystems, integrated learning and performance management innovations, have to offer today, multiple aspects of talent assessment (and subsequent succession planning) can be identified and evaluated on an ongoing basis.  In addition, skills and competency gaps can be identified and corrective action can be taken at very short notice through re-skilling and coaching.  Moreover, organizations that align their business goals with performance management systems at the personal and team level can more accurately measure the impact during unforeseen or changing circumstances.

Succession planning is no longer a strategic, often annual, exercise from the highest echelons of the organisation, but a vision of continuous talent development. This in turn has other positive effects that strengthen the employer brand.  On the one hand, it makes potential talent feel more connected to the organisation, which increases engagement and well-being, and on the other hand, it makes the organisation more attractive for external talent, thereby reducing recruitment costs.

To summarize why I believe we need learning ecosystems with permanent succession planning

  • With a tech-driven continuous succession plan, your business is covered in the event one of your senior staff members suddenly leaves to join another organization.
  • You will already be aware of which team members are ideal or suitable to take the lead with a well-considered succession plan, and
  • It ensures your brand identity is maintained, as you’ll be able to nurture internal candidates before the handover, aim to continue with what works in your organization, and avoid any surprises.

Q- How do you see leadership development as important to succession planning?

Leadership development programmes offer employees the opportunity to grow within a company rather than going elsewhere to fulfil their ambitions. These programs increase employee morale and retention, improve productivity, promote better decision-making, build better teams, and train future leaders a management style conducive to a positive work atmosphere. By prioritising these programmes, organizations demonstrate that they aim to develop high-performing employees, giving them a reason to dedicate their time and career to the organisation.

Leadership development often makes the identification of future leaders more visible and can identify potential gaps in skills and competencies. Innovations often open up new possibilities in the process, as I learned during an experiment I recently participated in. A startup had invited me together with CEOs to participate in a leadership game using VR and AI to identify leadership competencies, or should I say the lack thereof.

It became clear to me that in this immersive or Metaverse environment, participants were made comfortable with the uncomfortable in order to achieve self-awareness. I admit I was hesitant, but after I crashed in the first round, I noticed that in stressful situations I lost all empathy for my team members and only put my own interests first (surviving the game).  Something that I must confess could have happened in the real world. 

Openness, being critical and dealing with other insights or opinions, and talking about them are one of those competencies that we as leaders should develop more.  And to return to succession planning, I would add that organisations preparing for a world of ever faster change also select future leaders on other distinct human leadership competencies such as curiosity, empathy, optimism, creativity, resilience, and consilience. (The ability to see similarities in differences)

Q- What are the interventions that you will provide to enhance leadership development and succession?

Leadership development and succession planning are ongoing processes with a holistic approach that considers an unprecedented future as much as possible.

For this, I would go beyond the annual Talent Review Programs (TRP) where leaders and managers meet to identify talent in a way that is not always free of bias (which is very human).  One intervention I also suggest in my most recent book Learning Ecosystems is an executive workshop that looks holistically at the organization as a learning ecosystem. The first step is to learn from past obstacles or problems by translating them into opportunities that innovation can offer for the development of employees, the organization, and ultimately society.

Q- What are the important steps of Succession Planning and how can succession planning be implemented effectively within organizations?

The steps I would suggest go beyond what is within the scope of HR in many organisations today. It is a holistic and forward-looking approach that involves multiple stakeholders. However, there are indeed some steps that should be taken for all organisations today, regardless of the opportunities that innovation offers. 

  • Define the key roles that are eligible for Succession Planning
  • Conduct the Talent Review Process, supported by technology and AI or not, and assess the state of your talent
  • Identify who is performing, who is ready for promotion, and who could be a retention risk
  • Decide on the actions for each individual (promotion, leadership development, dismissal, …)
  • Inform the participants about the outcome of the TRP and set up a common and shared action plan with clear deliverables
  • Monitor the results on a quarterly basis
  • Implement the TRP at least every year
  • Release budgets according to development and innovation needs

Q- Any final words?

Success planning and talent development are not isolated initiatives. Organisations that want to grow nimble do so together with their employees and use innovation to support their well-being. In doing so, they use intelligent technologies, or learning ecosystems, that generate the data needed to make human decisions.

Building learning ecosystems like this requires a value-driven vision based on the principle of continuous improvement.

Thank you, Katja!


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