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7 Rules to Create a Successful Succession Plan

Jason Diamond Arnold

October 10, 2019

Executives are on the move, and companies need to be prepared to address this reality. All executives leave their companies at some point, regardless of whether it’s due to retirement, other opportunities, or misalignment with organizational values.

In fact, turnover among global CEOs is reaching record levels. Each year about 10% to 15% of corporations need to appoint a new CEO for one reason or another. Roughly 49% of CEOs are 55 or older and rapidly approaching retirement in the near or immediate future. For most companies, a shift in executive leadership is an imminent business issue.

With the reality of executive turn-over, this constant threat of change and uncertainty can descend quickly upon the vitality and overall health of an organization. Having an effective plan of action can eliminate friction, ambiguity, and ease nerves to ensure a seamless transition of executive leadership. A good succession plan can also stabilize the energy and motivation of employees. Transitioning to new leadership is a great opportunity for corporate cultures to build trust and confidence through transparent and well-planned execution of executive leadership transitions.

If you are among the multitude of companies attempting to address your succession planning process, here are 7 practical ideas to help you get more out of your organization's succession planning efforts:

1. Take A Proactive Approach To Your Succession Strategy

It takes time for your company to find and prepare a promising candidate for a leadership role. It's important not to procrastinate on designing, developing, and implementing a proactive succession strategy. According to Gallup, 87% of Millennials say development opportunities are important in a job. Even if you don’t think you’ll need a replacement any time soon, preparing someone to take over an important position in your company creates value for the company while engaging employees at all levels. Developing employees with common leadership skills at every level of the organization is a viable business investment and part of any successful succession strategy.

After identifying a leadership framework for your organization, there are a few ways you can pinpoint which employees exhibit the right characteristics and skills for leadership. Predictive, scientifically-validated assessments — based on best practice in leadership — are a great tool for understanding potential in current and future leaders, and eliminating bias on how future leaders are selected. Performance management software tools, like the Inspire Leadership Genius, help train and nurture talent so that they’re ready when the opportunity arises. Training well and choosing wisely is the first and most critical step to good succession planning.

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2. Simplicity Is Key

With so many variables, it’s easy to overthink the succession planning process. You may find yourself adding excessively complex assessment criteria to your company’s succession planning process in an effort to improve the quality of the assessment. Since the planning process is only the first step in development, it doesn’t need to be perfect, and there’s no single right answer. Using some form of software to help organize and simplify the succession planning process can help streamline and organize your overall succession strategy, making it more manageable and easier to monitor and update as necessary. More sophisticated assessments can be built into the development process and administered by a potential candidate’s coach or mentor.

3. Offer Continual And Constructive Feedback

Did you know employees are almost 5x as likely to perform at a higher level if they feel their efforts are recognized? When someone exceeds expectations on a project, or outperforms on their own goals, express your gratitude to them, and let them know exactly what positive impact they made on the organization. Develop a system of keeping track of these achievements so you have something to reference during One to One meetings, and regularly assess potential leaders and the feedback they’ve received the next time a management position opens. Keeping record of achievements also provides useful information to note during performance reviews.

One to One conversations allows for more intentional, regular conversations to help influence behavior, attitudes, and priorities. They also help assess the needs of the person pursuing the goal in a more accurate, focused way. You can better gauge your potential leadership and their ability to perform the role, how much training or direction is needed, if they have a real interest in the role, and what factors affect their motivation. You might learn that this person you’ve chosen isn’t the right fit, or they aren’t truly interested in pursuing a leadership position, and that’s okay. It’s more important that you put in the work ahead of time to uncover those things before they get there.

4. Focus On Measurable Outcomes

Many leaders within organizations prefer to focus on what gets measured and rewarded, rather than the process. If leadership development is not enough of a priority for the company to establish goals and track progress against those goals, it will be difficult to make any succession planning process work. In 2016, only 7% of companies had accelerated development programs for Millennials, but 44% said they were making progress on development for Millennials. Most importantly, the results will help guide future efforts and mid-course corrections.

This also helps you observe which leaders are driven beyond expectations. You can spot those who strive to achieve more, both on a personal scale and also for their teams and the company. They push themselves and others to go further than their goals and will work to motivate others to help them achieve great results while feeling good about the environment they work in. They take pride in a job well done, look for creative solutions to old problems, and challenge the status quo to push beyond the norm to new innovations and higher levels of performance.

87% of #Millennials say development opportunities are important in a job. What kind of development opportunities do you have in place? @InspireSoftwareTweet this!

5. Be Realistic With Your Strategy

While succession plans are important to develop and implement, keeping your strategy in check is just as important. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of putting too much emphasis on rapid development, which can easily lead to burnout and frustration. Succession planning should be geared towards helping employees reach their potential, and assisting them in closing any necessary gaps in their skill set.

It’s hard to stay focused on the long term when so much of our business happens in the short term. It’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture; favor future success over the immediate rewards. Often companies don’t think about succession planning until they’re on the precipice of change, but a successful transition is only possible with a long term, slow strategy. This allows you the opportunity to monitor, adapt, pivot, and improve as need be so that transitions don’t become a disruption.

6. Understand And Implement Your Company’s Vision

Include potential successors in strategy conversations to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, as well as a broad vision of the organization and its objectives. The vision and mission clearly indicate where your company intends on heading. If you stress the importance of core values and the mission of the company with potential leaders early on, it is likely they will adapt to the leadership role quickly.

7. Use Your Succession Plan Throughout Your Organization

The advantage of succession planning is that it can help your organization in the future, as well as establish best practices throughout your organization today. Not only does this type of strategy apply to every aspect of your organization, but it should also be considered as part of your recruiting and hiring process. Those considering serving your organization through their skills should know that they will have opportunities to develop new ones that even some of the most prestigious universities don’t teach. New leaders should be aware of, and challenged to live up to, the high expectations of leadership within your organization. They should be aware that even the highest levels of leadership have room to improve and grow skills as they serve the mission, vision, and values, as well as business outcomes of your organization. Once you have clear goals set for the type of leaders you want running your organization in the future, it becomes much easier to hire and develop candidates that fit that description.

Succession planning doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Inspire Software helps you put your plan in place through careful strategy, goal-setting, and performance management. While it takes time, succession planning is one variable that will assist in the long-term growth of your organization, and we’d love to tell you more about how we can help make it happen. Subscribe to our newsletter for more tips on succession planning and leadership development tactics!