Where to Draw the Line: Determining Who to Include in Your Succession Planning Process

2 min read
November 29, 2011

succession planning processFor our clients who are ready to embark on a succession planning process, we are often asked to provide a recommendation on who they should include in the initial talent assessment phase. One can understand the dilemma as often clients are most concerned with finding successors for the CEO and his/her executive team. Given this objective, should you assess the executive team? The team and 1 level below them? Two levels below?

To add to this dilemma, clients feel the pressure of having some type of immediate coaching or developmental offering for all participants in the process. If the population is fairly large, how will the HR team be able to address all of these developmental needs? The question of scale is quickly apparent and it logically makes the HR team quite nervous.

There are a few points to consider in sorting through the issues above:

  • Organizations need a broad enough population to draw from when looking at executive succession
  • Once a successor is identified in this talent pool, there needs to be a successor identified for that person’s role (and so on, and so on)
  • Not everyone in the target population needs to be provided with some type of development offering right away
  • Not everyone in the target population needs to be provided with the same (potentially labor-intensive) development offering

With regard to the first and second bullets we recommend that organizations assess the executive team and at least two levels below. By including this population, the organization will be able to identify successors for the executive team and then surface any potential candidates to fill vacant roles for these successors. Ideally, the assessment would be carried down to lower levels to build a solid “leadership pipeline” of candidates who could fill multiple vacancies but this can happen in future phases. Identifying the most important positions that will be potentially filled by this talent pool is another important step and something we address in our recent article, "Identifying Critical Positions in the Succession Planning Process”.

In addressing the third and fourth bullets surrounding the plan for developing the target population, the leaders participating will all have unique development needs and subsequently will have different recommended development offerings to address these needs. Some of these developmental offerings will be more labor-intensive (e.g., individual coaching) than others (e.g., an external training course targeted to a specific leadership skill such as strategic thinking).

Setting realistic expectations in terms of the purpose of the succession planning process and time frames around development is critical to how participants will respond as the initiative unfolds. We recommend positioning the process as a developmental initiative that will result in different development actions for each leader involved. Given the diversity of needs, the time frames for addressing these will also differ and will occur based on resources and budget available. By setting these expectations, it allows the HR team more latitude in what development initiatives to offer and when these will be available.

Ultimately, the succession planning process should include a population broad enough to adequately surface candidates across all functions and several levels beneath the target roles to be filled. For the basic steps on how to get started, see my recent article, “Make the First Move in Succession Planning”.

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