Talent Pool or Talent Puddle? Building Bench Strength for Succession

Is this you trying to identify the right successor for a critical role in your organization?

talent pools or talent puddles?

Lining up potential successors with no real idea of how right they are for the position, let alone how ready, does not equate to a succession plan. Pardon the pun, but the approach seems rather suspect.

While succession planning is easily misinterpreted as replacement planning, there is a difference.

Replacement planning assumes that the organization chart will remain unchanged over time. It usually identifies “backups” (typically 2-3) for top-level positions, as they are identified on the organization chart, and stops there.

With replacement planning you do have an indication of how ready each person is to assume the role of the current job incumbent, but there is no plan put in place to develop your “backups”. The assumption is that the selected successor will be ready to “jump” into the role at any minute.

Succession planning, in contrast, focuses on developing people rather than merely naming them as replacements. Its goal is to build deep bench strength throughout the organization so that, whenever a vacancy occurs, your organization has many qualified candidates internally that may be considered for advancement.

Emphasis here on many qualified candidates – not just two or three.

The Consequences of Not Having a Succession Plan

A recent Financial Times article discusses the impact of not having a succession plan in place for executive positions in the organization:

“But the consequences of poor or non-existent succession planning include reduced performance, higher turnover of senior management, market share loss to more aggressive and focused competitors, irreparable reputational damage, and skepticism among institutional investors. All of these undermine share valuations, studies show.”

However, these negative impacts are also felt when you don’t have a succession plan in place for other key roles in the organization. For one, it can have a huge impact on retention rates across the organization – not just among senior management.

Who wants to stay with an organization that’s flailing – aka “flying by the seat of its pants” – when it comes to finding the right successor for a key role? Further, who wants to stay with an organization that doesn’t support the development and career advancement of its employees?

As William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., a well known thought leader on the subject and author of Effective Succession Planning, states:

“Succession planning is perhaps best understood as any effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department, or work group by making provision for the development, replacement, and strategic application of key people over time.”

Effective succession planning (2005, p. 10)

Succession planning is part of a larger talent management process and is intended to help you attract, retain and develop the best talent through well-targeted development efforts. It’s proactive rather than reactive and is strategically tied to your other talent management processes.

Speaking of Development Efforts…

There are several strategic steps in creating a succession plan, and to learn them all I invite you to download the complimentary white paper Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning. Written by Dr. Rothwell, this paper outlines a practical approach to succession planning.

Investing in the development of your employees is a key factor, as it enables you to:

  • Identify the kinds of leadership skills the company needs
  • Identify employees with those skills
  • Develop an incentive program to interest and motivate them
  • Invite staff to participate in employee and organization development planning
  • Use training and mentoring to prepare employees for leadership roles

If you want a succession planning process that works, invest in the development of your employees, look for tools that can help you simplify the process, and be strategic about it.

Doing so will ensure you are able to identify and groom employees to move into strategic positions within your organization well in advance of you needing them.

What’s your take on succession planning? Any additional advice to offer?

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