Succession development is a critical part of a company’s integrated talent management system. (We wrote a feature article describing integrated Talent Management last year: Succession planning is a process for aligning your future long term mission with the right talent to successfully implement your strategy. This process requires forecasting the knowledge, skills, abilities and talents you will need for future jobs and purposely developing the right people for those roles. An important element of this process is indentifying what new knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) will be needed in order for your organization to most effectively achieve its purpose.

Senior leaders should be very involved in this process. Senior leader guidance is integral to forecasting future talent needs – as well as in developing the people for those roles. Most organizations understand that a solid strategic plan makes the difference between success and stagnation in the marketplace. We cannot underestimate how important equipping the right people to deliver your strategy is to your success. Too often, organizations do not spend enough time ensuring that the right players are being developed in the right skill set to maximize organizational performance.

Here are some of the key steps for effective succession planning:

1. Forecasting the organization’s needs. This includes developing contingency plans to replace all key leadership positions within the organization (both management and technical) and determining what new knowledge, skills, and abilities will be required to execute the long term organizational mission. In this step, you will define and measure the key qualifications needed for each targeted position. The qualifications reflect what the job requires in order to deliver its chief accountabilities. Organizations that spend time forecasting and planning for their human resource needs optimize organizational success.

2. Assessing Talent. The next step is to evaluate potential candidates against the job qualifications and other relevant criteria. At The Talent Journey, we recommend assessing talent along several dimensions:

a. Qualifications – does the candidate meet the knowledge, skill and abilities criteria identified?

b. Motivation – is the candidate motivated by the rewards inherent within the job and your organization?

c. Commitment – is the candidate committed to your organization’s purpose and the career track being considered? Unless the candidate is interested and willing to make sacrifices for advancement, dollars aimed at promotion may be invested poorly.

You will want to utilize several tools within your organization to assess candidate talent. These include the past few performance appraisals, a 360 degree survey instrument and an assessment tool that measures behavioral style, motivational drivers and personal talents and skills (PTSI). We use our Performance Fit Assessment tool to measure these three attributes. Finally, we highly recommend simply having a frank discussion with the potential candidates to determine their commitment level for the next level of responsibility.

3. Develop Successors. Once you identify succession candidates, developing them for the next job is critical. Some of these activities may include:

a. Project team assignments. By working cross functionally among colleagues of varied vocations and expertise, candidates are exposed to new ways of thinking, different leadership styles and broader dimension challenges. This prepares them for higher level complexity.

b. Job rotation. By working across different functional areas and international assignments (as appropriate), candidates gain a depth of perspective and understanding regarding your overall business.

c. Mentors/Executive Coaching. Grooming succession candidates through mentorship or coaching programs can be highly effective in accelerating their learning. Mentors that both share openly and ask wise questions that help the candidates think through solutions are invaluable.

d. Educational courses. Whether the education is formal, such as higher education courses, a workshop, or reading targeted books, education broadens candidate intellectual capacity for problem solving and innovation.

Succession planning that identifies the kind of work and types of skills needed for future business success is integral to your strategic initiatives. Planning succession candidates for all key leadership and technical jobs should be weaved into your strategy discussions. Developing key players drives your final success. Just imagine what would happen if a professional baseball team didn’t have a minor league system from which to test and draw out talent. In the same way, organizations need to identify what kind of players they need and develop those player’s skills now before it’s time to send them into the crucial game of the season!