Succession Planning Best Practices for Forward-Thinking Organizations

Christina DeLeonibus

Christina DeLeonibus is a Manager at Educe. She leads Cornerstone CSX (formerly Cornerstone OnDemand) implementations across multiple industries including…

Has your organization ever found itself in a bind when an employee in a critical role decided to leave unexpectantly and there was no plan in place for replacement?

The ‘Great Resignation’ phenomenon experienced in 2021 found many organizations faced with a record number of employees resigning in both critical (i.e., CEO, CFO, CIO, CHRO, etc.) and non-critical roles (according to SHRM, 49% of US workers were actively looking for new jobs in 2021.) Those companies that had an established succession planning process in place were the most prepared and weathered the storm far better than organizations caught off-guard and scrambling to fill positions simply to maintain operations. In this article, we will define what succession planning is, what tools are used to develop a succession plan, and succession planning software implementation best practices organizations should consider to ensure they get the most value from their succession planning technology.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a strategy of defining an organization’s future talent needs, identifying employees with the potential to perform in critical roles, and developing these future leaders to ensure continuity of leadership and business operations. Said another way, succession planning helps companies identify and determine employees that would be next in line for key positions should their current talent be promoted, retire, resign, or separate from the company. During the ‘Great Resignation’, those organizations caught without a succession planning process in place to identify their potential new leaders felt a significant impact on their business operations.

What tools are used to develop a succession plan?

Many companies do not have a clearly defined process or set of tools they use to conduct succession planning. Those that do, typically have informal discussions about “what-if” scenarios and record outcomes manually through notetaking, making the process time-consuming and difficult to incorporate into any sustainable development process. Converting these manual processes into system processes can be overwhelming, especially with all the functionality and integrations a succession planning system introduces. However, when implemented properly, enterprise systems like Cornerstone can help organizations streamline their processes and can provide the detailed reporting needed to conduct successful succession planning.

What succession planning best practices should organizations consider when implementing a new tool and process?

If your organization has decided to formalize and support the digital transformation of your succession planning process, below are 8 tips to ensure a successful rollout and that you get the most from your new technology.

  1. Communicate executive buy-in
    Communicating executive support for any type of change helps employees understand the importance of a new process. Make sure to have initial communications about the new succession process or system come from your executive team first.
  2. Start small
    It is not always best practice to roll out a system to an entire global population. A successful succession implementation usually happens when you start small. Know and choose to focus on your most critical positions to avoid business interruption(s). Ask yourself, would your organization suffer if you did not have a successor for an Administrator role? Probably not. However, your organization would suffer if you did not have a CEO/President to drive the organization forward and make key business decisions.
  3. Know the data needed
    It is imperative for organizations to know what information is needed for managers and assessors to complete the succession plan. Key pieces of information required to plan could include risk of loss or impact of loss, employee interest in relocation, employee readiness to fill the role they are being assigned to as a successor.
  4. Make performance managers accountable
    The direct supervisor is the greater organization’s link to an individual employee. Make them responsible for the initial assessment of their employees. Relying on indirect managers or more senior levels to complete the assessment might not provide the most accurate data needed.
  5. Use competency assessments
    Using competencies provides concrete evidence to support any ratings given. Consider competencies that can be used across the board to determine an employee’s performance and level of potential.
  6. Gather employee input
    Succession planning isn’t a process only for the manager or HR. Have employees get involved by sharing their career preferences and career profile. This will help managers and HR during the planning process to understand an employee’s background and career ambitions.
  7. Have a plan for development
    Once succession planning is complete, determine how you are going to develop the successor’s talent. Update development plans or create a process to collect information about what is needed to develop your talent. This is where many companies fall short in the succession planning process.
  8. Change management
    Change management is one of the most important parts of making a succession planning rollout successful. Determine who should know about the new succession system and what their role will be. To help with adoption, create targeted communications for those specific audiences and consider incentivizing employees to complete their inputs.

Implementing a good change management plan and holding performance managers accountable are two key areas necessary to ensure success for your new succession planning process. In addition, gaining support and momentum through clear messaging to let employees and managers “know what is in it for them” and establishing a good communication process, with regular reminders each year to ensure employees update their career details, will help keep the new process successful for years to come.

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