Succession planning is an integral part of building a deep leader pipeline. Organizations often view it largely through the lens of talent reviews, usually held once or twice a year. But approaching succession planning as a procedural, box-checking event leaves organizations vulnerable to poor or underqualified leadership pipelines. Succession planning needs to be a continuous, integrated talent management process in order to produce a quality pool of potential leaders. This is what separates successful succession planning from simple replacement planning. Succession planning is the advanced preparation for the departure of leaders, with an eye on the future of the organization. 

Long-term succession planning prepares organizations for handling unforeseen or emergency replacements as well. Focusing on preparing for expected transitions in the future will give the organization a solid view of the leadership pipeline and the skills and competencies it contains. This makes it more likely that an emergency replacement is going to be a better fit and be successful in the long term.

In a recent episode of Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence at Work podcast series, COO Rachel Cooke spoke with three executive leadership succession planning experts from Smartchoice® Gold Preferred Provider BTS to talk about some of the challenges that can lead to poor succession for executives and leaders and strategies for making it better. A big takeaway from the discussion is the need to look forward, not back. Companies can’t just look at what made past leaders successful. There has to be a focus on the future needs of the business.

This approach aligns with the insights and strategies Brandon Hall Group has identified through our research. Successful organizations focus on potential, not performance. Many organizations place people in the succession pool based on performance in their current jobs. But success in one position is not necessarily a good predictor of success in another. Brandon Hall Group research shows that potential is far more important than performance in developing employees for future roles. Potential can be looked at in multiple ways, including:

  • Aspiration. Knowing what employees want and what their goals are is very important because they will be more motivated to succeed.
  • Engagement. The level of engagement can tell a lot about employees’ interest and potential for taking on more responsibility.
  • Capabilities. Discerning capabilities transcends job performance. It must include skills and experiences beyond their current roles.

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.