Historically, succession planning was a process primarily undertaken by the head of a family business or estate to select and train a successor who would become the next leader of the family business. The term has since been adapted for a corporate context to indicate the process of preparing suitable individuals to fill the roles of key organizational leaders who leave the company. Ideally, successors fill crucial roles after careful and well-developed plans of action have been followed to ensure that the new leaders have all the knowledge and competencies necessary to fulfill their roles successfully.
While employers frequently implement succession plans to ensure smooth role transitions within their organizations, they are faced with three primary challenges in implementing these plans:
Identifying talented candidates for leadership succession.
Developing candidates to become suitable leadership successors.
Retaining leaders and succession candidates long enough to ensure that key positions will be successfully filled according to plan.
While these challenges would threaten to hamper the success of any succession plan's implementation, rather than fixating on planning for its own sake, it is more effective to focus on the developmental aspects of succession - as succession development. Shifting the focus to development enables employers to integrate succession planning practices with their greater talent development strategies. Such talent development strategies suited to securing a talent pool of capable succession candidates include employee career development programs and mentoring programs.
Rather than viewing succession planning in a vacuum - apart from the rest of the organization's talent development activities - employers can address the primary challenges to succession by facilitating programs that are designed to enable employee development and improve employee retention in their own right.
Career development programs provide employees with the tools and resources to map out their careers and plan for their own advancement while developing the skills and competencies they need to fulfill crucial roles in the organization. As employees fulfill criteria needed to advance to a new position, employers can track which employees are developing and making progress, helping to address the challenge of identifying candidates suitable for succession. Career development programs also contribute to improving employee engagement and retention, simultaneously addressing the challenges of developing and retaining candidates.
Mentoring programs provide employees with structured opportunities to learn from more experienced members of the organization. A mentoring program facilitates leadership development by matching talented mentees with mentors in leadership positions who can offer guidance and expertise to suitable succession candidates. Mentoring also helps improve employee retention by providing talented employees with the guidance and support they need to navigate and integrate with the organization's culture. Additionally, mentors may take notice of talented mentees and provide employers with insight in identifying candidates for succession.
Implementing a succession strategy with technology becomes important in addressing the first challenge to succession planning - identifying candidates. With career development software and mentoring software, employers can streamline the process of candidate identification and selection by tracking employees' development progress and by collecting feedback from mentors about possible candidates - all in a fully integrated talent management system. With the right software, employees can position themselves for advancement with a self-directed career development plan under the guidance of an experienced mentor.
The challenges of succession planning have their solutions in talent development. With a well-developed talent pool, employers can plan for success in succession.
Learn more about using mentoring for succession development.