Do you know who will be the next senior executive in your department? Who will replace you when you leave for a new opportunity? What’s going to happen when positions are left unfilled?

Unpredictable events like unplanned leave and employee movement can often result in hasty and poor recruitment decisions in an attempt to fill positions. This reactive, replacement approach to hiring can lead to a seemingly never-ending cycle of recruitment that involves spending valuable resources to recruit people who turn out to be unsuited to the position and then ultimately need to be replaced. This leaves the organisation back at square one, with yet another vacant position to be filled.

Succession planning prepares organisations for the unexpected and minimises the risk of running into this costly cycle. It involves deliberate and proactive strategies designed to forecast, identify and cultivate employees who have the potential to sustain its success in the future. And it’s not limited to leadership positions. Employees at all levels are preparing for career transitions, so it’s up to the organisation to focus on creating robust succession planning practices to support the entire pipeline of talent across the organisation.

The most comprehensive succession planning systems accomplish two things:

  1. They provide the processes and structure for identifying and understanding talent
  2. They emphasise and facilitate the ongoing learning and development of the organisation’s most talented.

The following outlines three strategies to help develop a robust succession plan.

1. Identify Future Requirements in People

The first step in succession planning is identifying the human aspect of your roles, both now and in the future. This involves determining the knowledge, skills and abilities your next generation of employees need to be successful.

Often people are identified as successors because they have demonstrated expertise or have experience in one area of the business; for example, knowing accounting principles for finance roles. However, identifying successors should focus on human traits as well as technical expertise. Training can develop people to meet technical role requirements; however, more innate human traits like emotional intelligence often take more time and effort to develop.

So, consider what human requirements are most valuable to the position by asking these questions:

  • What outcomes do you want employees to achieve in the role?
  • What duties, tasks, responsibilities are required to be successful in the role?
  • What traits stand out in high performing employees?

Clearly articulating the critical people attributes for different roles allows your organisation to maximise the alignment between people and job openings.

2. Assess for High Potential

Once you’ve identified the people requirements, you will need to determine which employees have the potential to demonstrate them. Regardless of industry, a qualified successor is typically someone who has high potential, and is a well-rounded employee who is capable of learning and developing into the future position. So, how do you know who has high potential?

Often potential is determined from past success and observable behaviour (such as referees and feedback from management). Unfortunately, these sources can lead to risky decision-making based on biased, inaccurate, and even unfair judgement.

If you’re looking for more fair and accurate information about your employees, it’s worth considering psychometric assessments, which provide insight into human traits and can help to increase confidence in decision-making. The assessments are designed based on scientifically rigorous methodology to allow organisations to clearly distinguish between candidates on an even playing field. They report on traits – such as cognitive ability and emotional intelligence – that are related to positive workplace outcomes, including high performance, effective communication and the ability to learn quickly.

The results from psychometric assessments can accurately and reliably indicate each individual’s capabilities and strengths, which in turn can indicate their potential alignment to role requirements. They give you information about your employees that helps to guide fast and accurate selection decisions when critical roles open.

3. Develop and Retain

Ensuring you have a pool of talent whose skills, capabilities and traits align to future roles may require some development in order to fill gaps. Role requirements vary, and people have their own unique set of traits and experience that may not align to the job. Based on the current set of traits in individuals, you can use a gap analysis to help determine growth and development opportunities.

Psychometric assessments can help you to identify those who have the traits required to step into critical roles immediately, and those who can be successful with additional development. The reports provided after completing assessments – particularly emotional intelligence and behavioural or personality assessments – give information about personality, behavioural tendencies, strengths, and development opportunities. They can provide a framework that helps people understand their own behaviour, and how they can form strategies around weaknesses and development areas to meet requirements on the job.

A great benefit of this approach is that providing development opportunities for high potential employees can help to keep them engaged as well. Giving them opportunities to apply their knowledge, skills and abilities, and also providing stretch assignments based on identified development areas means that employees can continue to learn and grow, and be ready to step in successfully when critical roles open up.

Revelian Snow Chen

Snow Chen – Consulting Psychologist

Snow joined Revelian in early 2018 as a Consulting Psychologist. She is a registered psychologist, who holds a Master’s degree in Organisational Psychology from Macquarie University.

Snow works with human resources professionals from recruitment agencies, government and enterprise organisations. She helps organisations use psychometric assessments to select, hire and develop quality candidates for entry level to executive management roles. She is passionate about using evidence-based practice to help businesses perform better through investing in their people.