What Every HR Manager Needs to Know About Succession Planning

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Jul 19, 2018

The only thing constant is change. Even in the world of business, where we try to eliminate as many independent, unknown variables as possible, nothing is set in stone. Succession planning is the best way to prepare for the eventuality of losing key players and switching out valuable assets to the company. But what is succession planning, and how can your business benefit from it?

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a process that focuses on the latent potential, skill set, and talents of individuals in a company. It is meant to address the probability of changing or succeeding roles, and the inevitability of resignation, retirement, termination, illness, or death. Employees are scanned and assessed with regard to the likelihood of them successfully taking on a leadership position.

In succession planning, an employee’s abilities, intelligence, and subsequent growth and progress are all taken into account. They are then given training to prepare for their possible advancement or promotion. Through this process, the management is assured that the business will continue to run smoothly and efficiently despite changing out key people or reassigning critical roles.

Who needs succession planning?

Every business, regardless of size or industry, stands to benefit from succession planning. It’s a procedure that is both comprehensive and critical, and can yield highly favorable results for the company in question — when performed properly.

Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked.

A lot of companies seem to operate under the assumption that employees’ loyalties are ironclad, or that they are physically capable of ensuring permanence in their position. As both are obviously not the case, businesses should seriously invest in succession planning — if not as a smart, organizational process, then as an aspect of disaster control and risk management.

What do I need to know?

As an HR manager, you may be expected to head succession planning. Your position in the company gives you all the specific tools and resources you need to make the best possible decisions. As with many crucial business processes, there are some things you should know before you begin.

An open mind is crucial — The whole concept behind succession planning is to ignore the obvious in favor of possibility and promise. You can’t disregard other employees simply because their department, area, or job description doesn’t conform to the conventional. In succession, the second-in-command may be the recognizable choice, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the right one.

As an HR manager, you need to keep an open mind regarding all the employees and individuals in the business. This means looking beyond their roles, their age, their race, and their gender, and really focusing on what matters: their attitude, their skillset, their capabilities, and their subsequent potential.

It’s never too early for inclusion — Once you’ve narrowed your choices down, you should start including them in business meetings and processes that will someday concern them. Think strategy conversations, procedural discussions, brainstorming sessions, and management meetings.

As potential leaders, it’s imperative that they gain an understanding of different systems in different departments. They should also have even just an inkling of how each department operates. Failing to include them in such consultations can cause a significant delay during the actual succession process.

The last thing anyone wants is for the employee to be forced into a position of power without knowing anything about the company’s systems and operations.

Advanced training is a must — The explanation behind this is similar to the previous point; you do not want the potential successors to take on critical roles while still woefully unprepared. You need to begin their training as soon as possible.

While it may not be possible to do so every day, you should still encourage constant, consistent mentoring sessions and training. Once every week or once every two weeks should be sufficient in imparting the leadership skills, technical acumen, communication abilities, and comprehensive knowledge they’ll need for their future positions — plus the means to actually implement them when the time comes.

Regular feedback helps both parties — Following the regular leadership training and mentoring sessions, you should always be ready to openly rate the performance of the protégés. While many employees are often discouraged by the thought of feedback, potential leaders understand the need for honest, unbiased reviews. It helps both of you identify the individual’s strengths, as well as zero in on areas that need improvement.

Constant feedback can also lead to the discovery of possible weaknesses that could eventually cause problems when they take over. Knowing all the weak links in your business — and the potential problem areas — can help you create contingency plans to address the issues and prevent them from creating irreparable damage. This knowledge can also help you calculate the acceptability of risks in your company, and adapt accordingly when the situation calls for it.

Succession planning can lead to an improved hiring strategy — Identifying internal employees and skilled professionals for future leadership roles is an intricate, comprehensive process that needs certain abilities to pull off. Performing succession planning often enough can lead to you nurturing and improving these abilities. As that happens, your succession planning process may develop and evolve further.

Likewise, the abilities and awareness that you’ve gained through constant succession planning can also be used to create an improved hiring strategy. Your mindfulness of the talent gaps in the company as well as the company’s overall employee performance puts you in the unique position to actively refocus your recruiting efforts for the best possible outcome. Your knowledge of your own shortcomings can also help your team adjust the hiring process accordingly.

Overall, succession planning is a smart management move that eliminates the risk of placing incompetent or untrained individuals in positions of authority. It’s a process that essentially secures the company’s smooth, efficient operation for the foreseeable future, regardless of unexpected circumstances and eventualities.

Succession planning is not just for the good of the business. By boosting morale, inspiring career confidence, and presenting numerous development opportunities, it can also greatly benefit the employees involved. Knowing that the organization they’re working for can offer them several incredible prospects for growth in their career can reinforce an employee’s desire to consistently perform at their best.

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