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There are a lot of great reasons to prioritize employee development in your organization, but one of the most needed (and most overlooked) reasons is planning for your future leadership needs.

Whether it is a planned retirement or a surprise departure, you need to be prepared when vital positions in your organization are vacated.

Developing a succession planning process is an important step to take so that your organization can continue operating smoothly and growing steadily when leadership is disrupted.

Creating a succession plan may seem like a daunting process, but not doing so is not a viable option for organizations with growth plans.

When you’re open and honest about progress and possibilities, you help your employees feel valued and know that they have a future with your organization, whether their career path leads to C-suite level positions or to the height of their chosen field.

So what are the steps for creating an effective succession planning process?

Here are three succession planning best practices to get you started on the right foot for the future.

1. Identify Your Organizational Needs

When you plan for succession, you aren’t just looking for replacements for current leaders, but also at the current and future needs of the organization. Consider these questions:

  1. What skills, competencies, and knowledge will you need the next generation of leaders to master?
  2. Will new leaders need to acquire any new skills?
  3. Have you explored learning agility as a competency and how it applies to your organization?

It’s important to note that the answers to these questions may look different today than they did five years ago, and they could be different five years from now.

These discrepancies can tie into emerging technologies, the growth of remote work opportunities, unforeseen circumstances (such as a pandemic perhaps?), and economic growth and decline, among other things.

To identify the needs of your organization, work with senior leadership to define organizational goals and potential pressure points, and perform a cost/benefit analysis of structural changes.

When setting and establishing benchmarks for the future, you should rely on your strategic vision for the company. Make sure how you see the future of your organization fits into current market conditions, the competitive landscape, and your organizational capabilities.

See how BizLibrary helps organizations proactively implement succession planning to develop future leaders.

2. Assess Employees’ Traits and Skills

Future potential leaders need to have both the skills they use in their current roles and a demonstrated ability to think strategically. This is where you can identify your high potential employees, or HIPOs.

It’s important to keep in mind that high potentials aren’t just high performers – they also have strong emotional intelligence. There are many tools like the MBTI or the Enneagram that can help them develop themselves and understand others better. Your HIPOs are employees who balance the technical and emotional aspects of the job – these are the people you should look to first to include in your succession plan.

Don’t be quick to count out any employees that show high potential but low performance.

First, examine why their performance is low, especially if they clearly have potential to be high performers. You might discover that they’re poorly managed or don’t have the proper tools to do their job effectively. They may simply need some coaching and training to boost their motivation.

For more information about assessing high-potential employees for leadership roles, check out our infographic on developing your next generation of leaders.

Once you’ve identified someone as a HIPO or potential leader and want to include them in succession planning, talk to them about it. Ask what their career path looks like to them, and what kind of role and responsibilities they’d like to have in the future.

Knowing that their work has been noticed and that the company believes in them could boost an employee’s morale and self-esteem.

When they know the organization’s plans, they are more likely to buy into career development and growth, two things that employees want from their employers.

3. Match Employees to a Career Path

There will be bumps along the road. Don’t be surprised if someone you have selected for a leadership tract doesn’t want it. Upward mobility isn’t for everyone. Perhaps leading or managing others isn’t one of their career goals.

Instead of dropping it then and there, try matching them up with another career path that suits their needs and yours. It could be the career path that they are in, or it could be a lateral move to another department. Invest in and develop these employees the same way you plan to invest in the employees who are interested in management and leadership roles.

If you want to keep employees in your organization engaged with their work, then you need to provide a clear picture of how they can grow in their current position and beyond. If these opportunities aren’t available where they are, then they’ll look elsewhere.

Communicating with employees about available growth opportunities helps them prepare themselves in both mindset and skill set well before they actually step into a position, and it keeps them engaged in their day to day work.

Developing a leadership training program is a great way for leaders to receive feedback and learn new skills. Whether its conflict management, problem solving, or delegation, leaders need to know how to do those things effectively. Content plays a huge role in that, as it breaks down often complex subjects into more manageable learning opportunities. 

When you’re open and honest about progress and possibilities, you help your employees feel valued and know that they have a future with your organization, whether their career path leads to C-suite level positions or to the height of their chosen field.

To ensure your organization has strong leaders and managers ready to fill key positions, download our free ebook on how to create a succession plan: