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What’s your succession plan?

Succession planning is not usually a subject that many executives or companies enjoy addressing. Why? Because succession means change, and, as we all know, change can be very difficult.

If we had our way, all succession planning strategies would start during the initial hiring phase – when a new candidate could potentially come on board as a salesperson, an administrator, a manager, or any other position. There is enormous evidence that suggests that, if you hire people with their future in mind (as well as your company’s), the likelihood that you will maintain loyal employees, increase their engagement, and align your goals with your talent will be dramatically increased.

The reality is, or should be, that every hire you make is done so with consideration of how they will contribute to your company over the long term – not just in the role for which they are currently being considered. For example, if you’re looking to hire a sales manager, you will want to determine if that person is a good fit for the role now as well as investigate his or her aspirations. Is a sales manager position where this individual will want to stay for the rest of his or her life? If not, where does that person aspire to grow? And if you are aware of his or her aspirations, does your company’s future fit with where that individual is looking to grow?

If you put growth opportunities in place for everyone you hire and have a career path outlined for each person, you will have a robust talent pool from which to draw once a critical position becomes vacant. And because the likelihood of success is increased when you fill higher level positions from within – versus hiring from the outside – you will not only minimize your ramp-up time for that person, but also save time and money on filling that role with the right person. As an even more significant result, your company will set itself up as an employer of choice, one that encourages employee growth, has a clear vision of succession, and understands how up-and-coming leaders can advance.

There is a great deal to be gained from focusing on succession with each hire. Rather than simply asking ‘Can the person do the job today?,’ it is important to consider what the implications of that hiring decision will be in 6 months from now. What about in a year? How about 10 years?

Succession planning, in short, should start with the initial hiring process, so that you have people available who are qualified for that next position upgrade.

Filling a critical role isn’t something you want to decide upon when that position becomes available. If the role does become available, you should already know who will be able to step into it and be successful.

Four tips for creating a successful succession plan

Having a succession plan should be a priority for every organization. Developing and retaining leadership talent is both a strategic and economic necessity. Strategy cannot be effectively implemented without the right leadership – and the right succession plan. Filling positions internally affects the bottom line by reducing the time needed to reach proficiency and eliminating hiring costs and turnover or rejection due to a poor fit with current organizational culture.

Some organizations have compromised leadership qualities just to fill openings in key positions when there is not a ready-now candidate. And most current executives will say that they weren’t prepared for their first leadership role.

As most companies do not have the time or resources to develop leadership skills in everyone, Caliper suggests that the focus be placed on those individuals with the highest potential to succeed. Below are a few tips for improving your succession efforts.

Tip 1: Have a clear vision of where the business is going. Depending on your future growth goals and plans, you may need different kinds of leaders than you have today. As most executives tend to look for someone much like themselves when choosing a successor, we remind you to think critically about how the future will affect your needs. The focus should be on the development of leaders who can run the organization as it will be, not necessarily as it is now. Succession plans must be closely linked to business plans and strategy. 

Tip 2: Don’t waste time having leaders choose their replacements. Stop those pesky chores of completing replacement planning forms! Instead, develop a high-potential pool of “ready now” candidates to take on leadership jobs in general. Great leadership does not necessarily equate to great technical expertise. Having a broad range of experiences allows leaders to grow and develop a better, richer understanding of the organization as a whole. 

Tip 3:  Make your time investment in succession planning worthwhile. Do you tend to have the same discussions about the same people each year only to find that they are not any more ready than they were the year before? Succession planning is pretty much a futile effort unless it acts as a working, evolving guide to the development of your people. Make sure you cast a wide net at all levels when identifying leadership potential. The criteria on which you assess potential must be objective and fair. Everyone should know what it takes to be considered a future leader. 

Tip 4:  Provide real development for real people. People learn by doing. The worldwide primary methodology for simultaneously developing leaders, building teams, and improving organizational capabilities is Action Learning.  Development by working on real, important, and urgent business problems is transformational.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Caliper.