Organizations everywhere are feeling the shifts in workforce planning and talent management from entry-level all the way to the C-suite. Old ways of vetting candidates and making succession plans aren’t adequate for new realities of work, and many companies haven’t yet adapted to new approaches that will help them find the right people for senior leadership positions.
Recent publications from i4cp and strategy+business recommend a new approach to succession planning—one that starts with the needs and strategy of the company and takes a more skills-based approach to vetting candidates. These approaches are necessary and important updates to older succession planning models that focused more on grooming individual leaders who “fit” or had the right pedigree for a position. However, as companies adapt succession planning to a newer, faster-moving world, it’s important to remember the human side of the succession planning process.
Here are six essential things to remember as you update your succession planning approach:
1. Every level needs good leaders
Starting with strategy first and using company needs to develop a job description can be a useful approach for more than just the top level of the organization. “This is not just a strategy for CEOs,” says Tyra Bremer. “At all levels, we need to think about the strategy we need to execute and what accomplishments someone has achieved. This puts less focus on behaviors and ‘type’ of person.” Growing a talent pool full of leaders with a range of skills and accomplishments will increase the odds of finding the right person at the right level.
2. Remember to consider the candidate’s goals
Under older models, a leader might be hand-picked by a board or existing CEO to take the reins sometime in the future. But what if the chosen successor’s plans, goals, or desires change? “The conversation nowadays has to include the preferences of the leader,” says Taura Prosek. “Even if someone is equipped to be the CEO if that’s not what they want, you can’t assume that they’re going to take one for the team and go where they’re needed most.”
3. Make sure you’re speaking the same language
“As we’re trying to work with a board from a CEO perspective with all these very bright people, let’s make sure we’re actually talking the same language,” says Peter Stewart. “As we start creating a list of capabilities or leader scorecard or whatever it might be, do we all agree on what these mean?” Take the time to clearly define any ambiguity in company strategy or candidate skills to avoid looking at the wrong people and make sure board members agree on terms.
4. Strategy can change—now faster than ever
Looking at the radical change that many companies have experienced in the last two years, it’s easy to see how the candidates who may have been perfect for the strategy of 2019 aren’t equipped for the strategy of 2022 and beyond. “It’s good to look at the five-year or ten-year plan, but I think organizations need to be looking at the one-year plan as well,” says Tim Thrash. “If you look at how much organizations have changed in the last two years and how they’re continuing to change, organizations should consider shorter succession planning timelines.”
5. Be aware of unconscious company biases
“We’re used to thinking about individual biases, but I think this goes deeper into the organization and culture,” says Taura Prosek. A fitness company, for example, might turn down an otherwise qualified candidate who happens to be very overweight. The reasoning might be because the person “doesn’t fit the brand,” but the company could be missing out on an opportunity to become more inclusive and get another perspective.
6. Humanize to promote inclusion
Starting with a more strategic and data-driven approach is valuable in screening candidates. Once the selection process narrows to a few specific people, consider what new perspectives, approaches, and values someone can bring to the organization. “One of the missing pieces to maximizing the success of minorities is identifying what it is about that minority that makes them really interesting,” says Edward Keyes. “How do you maximize that uniqueness of who they are to grow the brand or the business?” Including diverse backgrounds, experiences, education, and career paths can make the company more inclusive.
Succession planning is still important, but it’s time to update the approach to one that recognizes modern business realities. By starting with strategy and accomplishment and including human touches along the way, boards and HR leaders can more confidently select candidates that will help drive strategy well into the future.