Lifecycle Mastery: Your Future Leaders Are Among You. Here’s How to Find and Develop Them

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Mar 7, 2017

This is the final part of a six part look at how employers can master the talent lifecycle in a way that will help build a high performing workforce. Today’s post examines succession planning. A complete list of the posts is at the end of this article.

The final stage of the talent lifecycle is succession planning. This stage of the process is centered around finding employees with leadership potential and developing them so they’re ready to take over when leadership leaves. The problem most companies encounter during succession planning is being able to identify future leaders.

The Global Workforce Leadership survey from Workplace Trends found almost half the companies surveyed in 2015 reporting that leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees. However, what most employers forget is that leadership can be learned and developed over time.

Let’s take a look at how companies can proactively address the lack of leadership that plagues most organizations.

Identify leadership potential

In a perfect world, all of your employees are candidates for leadership roles. While leadership is a skill that can be learned, not everyone is a standout performer.

You can’t rely on hunches or memory when identifying your top performers. You need data — performance metrics are your best tool for this.

Track and measure your staff’s productivity, and always highlight their successes and recognize everyone’s impact on the big picture. Use your employee recognition program as a way to track who is being celebrated the most.

Once you have your list of successors, you can then compare their qualities with those of your current leaders. Look for shared competencies, and assess their potential for success as a leader. For example, look at past performance reviews of your current strong leaders. Take note of what phrases or skills stand out in those assessments. Then look at your potential successors and see who has similar traits that have proven to be essential for an effective leader in that role.

Promote growth opportunities

Promote growth opportunities and show how mobile your employees can be. Remind new hires and tenured employees alike that they can express interest in a new role.

Succession planning isn’t a one time thing. You need to continually engage your staff with learning opportunities.

Emphasize the vision for the company when you explain your strategy to your staff. For example, speak directly to potential successors about how you expect to grow the customer service department that they will one day manage.

You want to provide them with a clear timeline and include the current manager in these conversations. This way, your successors can build a relationship with who they’re going to fill in for. But first, you need to know who your A players are.

Training and mentoring

Despite the drought of leadership skills in the workforce, companies aren’t taking action in bettering the situation. The 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte found that only 10% of companies have an “excellent” succession program.

You need to empower your successors by offering them a robust leadership training program. Help them prepare for the responsibilities of management by providing them with educational resources and tools.

Mentorships are ideal for not only showing successors the ins and outs of the daily pressures of leadership, but also for facilitating an environment where current leadership can build a meaningful relationship with lower level employees.

The transition of leadership will be smooth and simple when you have trained employees ready to accept more responsibility. Without preparation, you’re stuck without a leader while you scramble to find a replacement.

Do a trial run with potential successors when management goes on vacation to test them in their bigger role. This way, the shock of Day 1 in a leadership role isn’t so surprising.

The importance of exit interviews

Exit interviews are crucial — they tell you where your company can improve operations and talent management. Always have a sit down with exiting employees, especially when they’re from leadership.

Look for trends in exit interview responses or employee surveys so you know about common issues. For example, if a departing director said that he couldn’t lead projects and hit his deadlines because executives wanted to approve too many processes, you may have a micromanaging issue.

With feedback from departing leaders, you gain a full perspective of your company. They can provide you with important insights about what they liked and what they didn’t like.

Act on the feedback

It’s one thing to take feedback, it’s another to take action. If several employees say they felt micromanaged, make some changes. Perhaps it’s time to retrain higher-ups. Use employee feedback to revisit the entire talent lifecycle.

Additionally, when you transition a successor, measure their performance and gauge how well your company develops future leaders. If some of them struggle with delegating, refine your employee development process to focus on that skill.

Each stage of the talent lifecycle must be assessed. When you invest time and resources into them, you can improve engagement and retention. A motivated, enthusiastic group of employees who want to grow with you will result in sustained company growth.

Other posts in this series: