succession planning started resized 600The recent SHRM poll on succession planning has received a great deal of social media attention over the past few weeks. 

The results of the survey poll highlighted the continued lack of focus on comprehensive succession planning efforts in organizations today. I noted a few findings in particular (below) to which I offer suggestions/ideas for organizations struggling with how to get started.

SHRM Findings:

Almost one-half (43%) of the respondents indicated that more immediate requests take precedence in the organization over developing a formal succession plan.

Other organizations stated that they have not yet given consideration to succession plans (16%) or feel that their staff size is too small (15%). 

Given the long-term payoff of succession planning efforts, one might understand the lack of urgency. However, as the employee demographics continue to shift, many companies are regretting the lack of focus. We recently spoke to an organization who anticipates between 60-70% turnover within their management population within the next 5 years given the age of this group. In organizations such as this it’s hard to imagine a more immediate priority.  

Start Simple But Just Start

As my colleague, Karen Caruso wrote in her recent blog article Lots of Succession Planning Talk...Not Enough Action, succession planning processes can be very basic and then become more comprehensive over time. What is most important is that the organization begins the process of identifying the talent in place today. Once you know what you have, you can determine what’s missing should one of your leaders decide to leave the organization.

Taking the First Step – Identifying the Talent Pool

When organizations begin a succession planning process we recommend that they start with the top positions. Generally, this includes the CEO, his/her direct reports and one to two levels beneath them. Since the succession planning effort will result in the identification of replacements for the top executives, it is necessary to assess several levels below this group. Some organizations carry the process down to the director or manager level; however this decision depends on the potential depth of the talent shortage over the next 5+ years  and of course, time constraints and budget. While the assessment of talent does not require a large time commitment, HR leaders should factor in the amount of time involved when determining the number of levels that will participate in the process at one time.

Assessing Talent

Organizations use many different methods to assess and define their talent but more often than not we recommend a simple talent assessment survey which is completed by both the leader and his/her manager. This survey is generally very targeted to the skills, experiences and key attributes that are important for the specific organization.

While the time commitment of the leadership team for this type of assessment is minimal (often between 20-30 minutes), the power of gathering all of this talent data is immeasurable. Once this information is captured in some type of database, organizations are able to determine replacements for key positions, high-potentials, and ultimately create a true succession management process.

Ensuring a Leadership Pipeline

Once the talent data is collected, organizations have many options in terms of how to move forward in building out the process.  Some organizations simply assess the leadership team so they have a replacement pool from which to draw new leaders. Other organizations provide tailored development programs for certain leaders identified as “high-potential” and still others provide mentoring and development opportunities for everyone who participated in the assessment.

Even in small organizations, once the employee population reaches 50+, it’s difficult to have a clear picture on the skill sets across your talent pool. One could argue that understanding the talent mix in small organizations is even more critical than larger ones. Given the smaller employee size, these organizations will need to look externally for talent if they cannot “groom” from within. Since external recruiting costs can severely cripple a small business, understanding what you have in terms of talent and then developing these “high-potential” is critical to maintaining a steady stream of leaders as the organization moves forward.

Effective succession planning does not have to be a cumbersome, expensive endeavor. Finding experts who have the real-world experience and can guide you through the process easily is most important and will ensure a workable solution that will last long into the future.

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Related Article: Is it a Secret? Communicating High-Potential Status in Succession Planning.