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#truBatonRouge: Succession Planning Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

The Success Labs team just hosted #truBatonRouge, a #tru unconference, and got to participate in some interesting conversations about human resources, recruiting, workforce planning and other related topics. In yesterday afternoon’s second session, I led a group of about 10 participants in a conversation about succession planning.

“The term always scares me,” said one participant at the start. “Succession planning sounds like a process” and not a pleasant one. Also, “I struggle to get the companies I work with to buy into it.”

“There’s no road map, no easy way to get started,” said another.

People want it to be a process with a start and a finish, but succession planning is an ongoing thing that organizations have to keep working on, said local HR leader Sandy Michelet.

These are things I hear a lot as I work to help clients with their succession planning needs. People get intimidated by the idea, have a hard time getting started and aren’t sure what they need to do throughout the ongoing process. It doesn’t have to be that difficult, and you don’t have to say “succession planning” if that’s a scary term for you and your organization.

Start With Your Business Strategy

When we start working with a client on succession planning, we always start by examining their business strategy — something most people are more comfortable discussing. Once we know what an organization is trying to accomplish, then we can examine the HR implications of that strategy: Do they need more people? Do they need people with different skill sets?

Then we look at their people risks:

  • Which employees might retire? When I ask this question people tend to say their older employees will be there forever, but they don’t know that. People’s circumstances change and their health or family demands might lead them to retire earlier than you think.
  • Which employees are a flight risk? Talented employees have other options, so you have to be aware they might leave.
  • What talent do you lack that you need to accomplish your goals? Are lower-level employees going to be ready to step up into leadership roles? Just because  employees have “put in the time” doesn’t mean they’re ready with the skills, leadership competencies and relationships to succeed at the next level.

Let High-Potential Employees Know You Want Them to Advance

When companies lose high-potential employees who they’d hoped to promote into higher-level roles, I often find that they never told those employees they were on track for advancement. Without this essential communication, these great employees assume they’re going nowhere, so they move on to new opportunities. The employers are shocked by the loss.

“If I knew I was in an organization where I had no opportunities, I’d move on,” said Success Labs’s Megan Redhead.

Employers also need to identify talented people who are stuck in low-mobility parts of the organization and think about ways to give them more opportunities. Are there ways to make room for those people to advance so you don’t lose them?

It also helps to have an open, honest corporate culture, said our newest team member Eddie Gibbons. When employees understand who gets promoted, who doesn’t and why, it’s easier for them to see their place and path of progression within the organization.

Offer Professional Development Opportunities

High-potential employees want professional development and need opportunities for growth to be able to meet their potential and advance to doing more for the organization. That can be a stress for some employers, though, as some of our conversation’s participants noted.

But you have to consider the cost of not providing professional development, Megan said. If you’re worried about losing time and money to training, you need to think about the time and money cost of turnover — which is typically much more.

Professional development doesn’t always have to involve paying to send people to conferences and training. You can just put people in situations that stretch them and give them opportunities to grow through real-world challenges.

Want to learn more about succession planning? Read our guide:

Succession Planning: A Step-By-Step Guide

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.


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