Good Succession Plans Balance Current, Future Skill Needs

By Stephenie Overman Apr 24, 2008
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NASHVILLE, TENN.—Succession planning needs to be an integrated, continuing process that creates and helps to manage a leadership pool, not just a stand-alone program used to fill particular positions. It should extend beyond the top executive level into mid- and lower-level management.

That’s the message Lacuna Williams brought to participants at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2008 Staffing Management Conference here April 14. Williams is director of change enablement for Statera Inc., a business and technology services consultancy in Englewood, Colo.

Good succession planning ensures that the company’s people strategy ties directly to the corporate strategy, improving competitive positioning and organizational effectiveness, she said.

Companies that do a good job of succession planning reap a number of significant rewards, according to Williams. They are better able to achieve key objectives and to re-enforce their culture. Preparing leaders well in advance of assuming key roles enables continuity of business strategy and minimizes workplace disruption.

A dynamic and fluid labor market makes retention of good potential leadership candidates difficult, Williams said. Plus, the increasing complexity of the workplace means that future executives will need a more sophisticated set of skills and will require a longer lead time to develop them.

Preparing future leaders to move up the ladder requires coaching and mentoring. Job rotations designed to build employees’ skills and give them opportunities to learn about new areas of the business also are valuable, Williams said. But guard against creating other skills gaps within the organization while the rotation occurs, she cautioned. “Organizations are like spider webs. You might move someone here, and it might pull somewhere else.”

For succession planning to succeed, Williams said, it needs to be:

  • Aligned with the organization’s strategy and objectives.
  • Drawn from a clear definition of what makes for a successful leader.
  • Supporting of, and supported by, a talent management culture and mind-set.
  • Able to show early successes and measurable value to the organization.
  • Continually building the leadership pipeline.

The life cycle of a succession plan starts with the review strategy, she said. “Think through your strategic imperatives and ask yourself: What do we need to do, or what do we need to give up doing? … What kind of leader will help you get to your objective? What skills, competencies, subject-matter expertise and relationship components are necessary [for that person to possess]?”

Then, she said, assess the talent that is already available. “What do you have in the pool now? Conduct talent reviews…. Build your development plans. What are your smart goals?”

Finally, “evaluate the metrics. Ask: ‘Are we on target?’ ”

Stephenie Overman is editor of Staffing Management magazine.

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