5 Steps to Make Succession Planning Easier

By Robert Half on December 20, 2013 at 8:00am

Developing a realistic succession plan for critical roles in any organization is a serious undertaking. Identifying, developing, measuring and retaining talent are more than just a series of singular tasks to be tackled in a specified timeframe. Succession planning cannot be an extremely overt effort either; requiring people to groom their replacements is not exactly motivating. An effective succession plan needs to stem from a more organic, ongoing effort that is woven into the company culture.

Studies have shown that, while every executive understands the importance of succession planning, most are not making time for it. Two of their top reasons for not prioritizing succession planning efforts are the constant demands of their day-to-day operations and their own personal feelings of career immortality.

Here are five steps to establish a foundation for succession planning that may make the whole process easier:

1. Identify the X-Factor at the first audition

True talent can often be a hidden gem--how you interview candidates impacts how they reveal their aptitudes. Ask questions that require specific recall of past decision-making, rather than speaking hypothetically about expertise. Listen for leadership potential and stress indicators within candidates’ responses. Do they clearly express their short-term goals and long-term aspirations? Do they have a sincere interest in the company itself, in addition to the required skills for the position?

2. Foster a culture of respect and reward

When employees are treated with respect and dignity, they’re not only beacons for company pride, they also feel confident about their long-term potential within the organization. Regularly reward stellar performance with whatever incentive is the most motivating – bonuses, time off, public recognition or a simple acknowledgement of gratitude. Provide people with opportunities to participate in charitable or community efforts on the company’s behalf. Reinforce the company’s mission and vision in communications and share regular company progress reports with all employees.

3. Prioritize cross-training

Cross-training at every level of the organization helps people broaden their skills in preparation for the new roles and responsibilities of parallel or advanced positions. Strategies include setting up monthly or quarterly intra-departmental meetings to increase awareness of everyone’s workloads and challenges. Use cross-team committees to accomplish company projects that would benefit from varied input and skills. Employees can also benefit from mentor relationships and spending time together in skills enrichment programs. 

4. Leave no procedure undocumented

Clearly-documented standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each department and/or team are important training tools. Using SOPs not only ensures a more accurate and consistent workflow, it also helps to smooth out people’s transitions into new roles. Each SOP should include relevant policies and reference the people involved by title or role (not by name) to give everyone a clear understanding of the impact each procedure has on the company. The time invested in maintaining SOPs is minimal when compared to the time required to get a new hire properly up to speed when everyone else is in the dark.

5. Maintain a talent database

Whether it’s in a file cabinet or a software program, individual performance indicators need to be recorded somewhere for measuring and analyzing when the time comes to move someone into a vacated role. Managers should systematically make frequent entries throughout the year about their team members’ efforts, breakthroughs and challenges. This data serves the year-end appraisal process, as well as succession planning strategies.

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