Emily Marsh August 27 2019

Succession planning: how to prepare your future leaders for success

How to take a proactive approach to succession planning and prepare your future leaders for success.

In a recent study by Gartner, 67% of HR leaders said that building a leadership pipeline is a top priority in 2019. Yet 47% said their organisations struggle to develop leaders.

The trouble is, while organisations recognise the importance of succession planning, few manage to do it well.

So, is your organisation doing everything it can to create a steady pipeline of future leaders? Do you know what best practice looks like?

First, let’s take a look at why succession planning is so important, particularly in today’s climate.

Why succession plan?

With unemployment rates at an all-time low, its a job-seekers market and they get to pick and choose more freely. This makes it harder for us all to recruit into new or vacant roles, and we all know that retaining existing skills and knowledge can bring a wealth of expertise and cost less in the long run. It is even more important for us all to be able to prepare our current employees for future leadership roles.

There are many added benefits of filling leadership roles from within. First, your employees know the ins and outs of your business, meaning they’ll be able to get up to speed quicker. Second, your employees embody the values and beliefs of your organisation, meaning you won’t risk hiring someone that could disrupt the dynamics by not being the right culture fit.

Then there’s the ‘moving up or moving on’ conundrum. Employees today are ambitious, driven, and hungry for opportunities to grow and develop their careers. If they aren’t getting those opportunities in their current company, they’ll simply move on. Younger employees in particular are more open to moving around than previous generations, meaning organisations have to work harder to get them to stay put. Research shows that employees are more likely to stay in companies that have a clear succession plan and where they feel able to progress.

So, how can you create a clear succession plan and set your future leaders up for success?

Define your career routes

Do you have specific career paths in place? Do your employees know what they look like?

If people know what their possible next steps are, and what they need to do to achieve those next steps and reach a leadership role, they will be more motivated and engaged. Excite people about their prospects, and they’re more likely to stick with you.

Plus, having well-defined career paths makes it easier for you to spot those high-potential candidates.

Talk to your employees about their aspirations

Do you know what your employees’ career aspirations are? Do they align with what you think they want?

The only way to really find out your employees’ career aspirations is to ask them. Find out where they want to be in one, two, five, ten years down the line. What do they want from their next role and then the one after that? Help them set goals to make it there, what experience or training is missing and give regular feedback so they can track how they are progressing to their own future plans.

Build up employee self-awareness

How well do your employees know themselves?

Self-awareness is an important building block in leadership development. The best leaders know their strengths, their potential ‘watch outs’, and how their behaviour influences those around them. Equipped with this knowledge, they can adapt and flex their leadership style when required in order to get the most out of the people they lead.

Help build your employees’ self-awareness from the moment they join your organisation, through personality profiling and regular feedback. Then when they enter into leadership roles, they’ll know themselves well enough to be the best leader they can be.

Provide continuous training opportunities

How much are you investing in training opportunities for your employees?

One of the primary reasons organisations struggle to develop leaders is because they don’t offer enough training to employees. Continuous learning opportunities are not only desirable to employees, but will help set them up for future leadership positions.

Training opportunities may include workshops, online training, or a blended learning approach. It might include shadowing leaders in their direct line of progression, or even shadowing colleagues in different departments to help them learn more about the business through a wider lens.

Offer mentoring programmes

Everyone needs a shoulder to turn to for advice...

All employees should feel like they have someone in the company they can turn to for career advice and guidance. It may be that people feel they can talk to their line manager, or another individual higher up in the business that they trust. But a more structured mentoring programme will make sure no one is left feeling lost or alone. For an aspiring leader, a mentor can be one of the greatest resources available to them.

Encourage an open dialogue between leaders and employees

How much do your employees interact with the current leaders in your organisation? Is there a culture where people feel comfortable speaking to leaders about their experiences so they can learn from their career paths?

Learning from current leaders is a great way for your employees to evolve into leaders themselves in the future. Encourage your existing leaders to keep an open-door policy and to create an open dialogue around leadership opportunities. Don’t let it be a secret. Don’t keep people guessing. Show your employees there is a path wide open for them within your organisation, should they choose to explore it.

The best leader your business has ever seen might be sitting right next to you, right now. Give them - and your organisation - the best chance of success by taking a proactive and intentional approach to succession planning.

So, are you ready to future-proof your business and start setting up your future leaders for success? 67% of organisations say it’s a priority. But will you make it one?

Get started by taking a look at all your possible internal career routes and talking to your employees about what they want from their future at your company.

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