Your region’s strength hinges on your success

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Or should we say “succession plan”?Or should we say “succession plan”?

Human resources (HR) functions within organizations are changing. Fading are the days when HR managers were hired solely to keep employees compliant with policy and the benefits competitive.

Today, organizations are seeking leaders of “people departments” to usher talent development initiatives forward, provide organizational development interventions, and craft meaningful learning opportunities for every level of employee. Many organizations are embracing coaching styles that tap into employees’ intrinsic sources of motivation. Others have crafted more flexible work arrangements than ever before, and still others are considering things like unlimited paid time off or work-from-home policies that keep an increasingly diverse talent pool engaged.

Despite all the innovation and progress in the HR and people development functions of organizations, there is one fundamental that too many are leaving by the wayside: succession planning.

Ask any leader this question: Who would replace them tomorrow if they were gone from the company suddenly? Many will offer an answer, perhaps even a confident one. For too many organizations, however, “names on a list” is where succession work begins and ends, and only C-suite leaders are considered. Done right, succession planning is both supported by and is an outgrowth of a comprehensive talent development strategy that takes people development seriously across all levels of the organization. A comprehensive talent development strategy assesses things like key roles and the related competencies required for success. To take your strategy to the next level, it also requires an honest and systematic assessment of the current performance and potential of talent.

Here are some reflective questions to help you reach that next level:

Which roles are key to moving this business forward? What does it take to be great in each of those roles?

  • Who in your organization feels irreplaceable right now? (Hint: It’s not just your C-suite.) Whose departure from leadership, from the front lines, or anywhere in between would slow the pace of business … or bring it to a screeching halt? Consider not only aspects like unique expertise and institutional knowledge but also levels of formal and informal influence and depth of relationships within and outside the organization.
  • What does it take to excel in each of the key roles you have identified? Ask the folks who currently hold the seats and those around them to make a list of critical competencies. Who else presently possesses the required competencies? At what level and depth? How difficult would it be for a new person to acquire and master said skills? By what means—other than longevity—can up-and-coming talent develop the skills, knowledge, and relationships required to shine?

Where are the zones of greatest potential within the current talent pool? What must we do to develop the talent of today into the successors of tomorrow for each of our key roles?

  • Who are the highest-potential players in your organization? Take care to look beyond title and level when assessing potential. Add a forward-looking consideration of employee potential to retrospective performance evaluations to determine where it makes the most sense to focus your customized talent development efforts.
  • Does my organization possess customized development plans for a published and continuously-refreshed slate of successors for all key roles?

The considerations above should help you identify potential successors for not only C-suite leaders but also other critical roles within the organization. Engage those individuals in active conversation about their next steps professionally. What plans will you put in place together to ready your slate of successors? Research from the Society of Human Resources Management suggests that stretch assignments, mentorship, and formal learning opportunities are most effective at accelerating successor readiness.

As many companies in our region navigate waves of Baby Boomer retirement, succession planning is something that can no longer fall to the wayside. It affects not only the health of individual bottom lines but, ultimately, the collective readiness of a region to succeed into the next decade and beyond.

What can you do today to activate your people department and leaders around the challenge of identifying and readying successors? The health of your region’s economy just might depend on it.


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