The talent market is increasingly becoming very competitive. Quality employees are scarce and many organisations are faced with the option of acquiring expensive talents from outside or developing existing employees within the internal ecosystem. Voluntary turnover is also high and loyalty is at an all-time low.

Succession Planning is a critical aspect of talent management. Talent Management is systematic identification, attraction, development, engagement, retention as well as deployment of those individuals who are considered of particular value to an organisation, either in view of their “high potential” for the future or because they are fulfilling business/operation-critical roles (CIPD). This definition suggests that not all employees are considered talents – for some organisations, their talents are their HiPOs (“high potential employees”), for others, they are their leaders while for others all employees are talents. Also the definition shows that the definition of talent is peculiar to each organisation. However, what is common to all organisation is that, there are critical roles to be filled now and in the future.

Succession Planning therefore, ensures a structured and ongoing approach for building leadership pipeline/talent pool, for leadership continuity. Filling critical roles now can be done through “Replacement Planning” while the future roles that are strategic are planned for, through a succession planning process. Succession planning as part of the talent management process, seeks to identify and develop best talents through well-structured and targeted development efforts. Succession planning is not an organizational chart, with potential successors indicated for each role. Rather, it is a proactive and an ongoing process that aims at building the bench strength, all through an organisation.

The concept of bench strength is widely known in sports, because the team’s success is closely linked to the strength of the bench. No wonder, football clubs spend a lot of money to attract the best players to join their teams. Likewise in organisations, the talents in the pipeline are players and should be developed to transit seamlessly into key positions. Bench Strength therefore, refers to the capabilities and readiness of potential successors to move into key professional and leadership roles. An organisation may be seen to lack bench strength if, there are no individuals who have been identified and groomed to replace other employees in critical positions of the business.

Organisations that have effective succession planning process have adopted one or more best practices for creating sustainable bench strength, which entail various options and combinations of the following:

  1. Establishing a learning culture and make talent management part of the culture, with  potential impact on overall financial success of the organisation
  2. Aligning “people strategy” with the “business strategy”. It is important that Succession planning strategies fit the organisational-contextual issues, because using another organisation’s model may pose inherent risks if there is no alignment
  3. Having a shared definition of what talent is to the organisation and the value that various talent pools bring
  4. Recognising that talent of the future is not only found outside the organisation and that succession planning is not only for the C-suite roles
  5. Dedicating time, effort and resources to ensure succession planning strategies and plans are implemented
  6. Having a clear picture of current talent inventory i.e. the pool of competencies, skills, experiences, potential, temperament as well as the number
  7. Proactively anticipating and filling succession gaps
  8. Identifying employees with potential (i.e. likely successor pool candidates) and actively planning their careers to build the “bench strength” or “Talent pool”
  9. Have effective employee engagement strategies to complement succession planning
  10. Strengthen leadership peer relationships and build interactions across the different generations (i.e. baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y/Millennials), to facilitate learning

Analytics have also been used successfully to drive succession planning, so as to measure the impact of succession planning programs through clearly defined metrics. Some key metrics include: number of positions without ready candidates rate; percentage of critical roles with HiPO candidates as potential successors; percentage of successors without a readiness assessment rate amongst others.

To achieve the desired outcome from the succession planning process, it is important that the process is not left to HR alone rather all members of the executive team must take ownership, be involved and demonstrate commitment, for it to be sustainably successful.

Contributed by:
Mrs Seyi Onasanya
Head,  FITC Consulting


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