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Succession Planning and Leadership Development that Works


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Succession Planning and Leadership Development that Works

Written on Oct 20, 2016 11:07:24 AM, by Ilie Ghiciuc

Businesses are in the never-ending race to stay relevant and profitable. One of the main ways that companies can do this is through leadership development and succession planning. The problem is that most CEOs report that their companies are not very effective in developing skills fast enough or leaders deeply enough.

Companies are struggling to find employees that can keep up with the pace at which work is changing, but many are not viewing learning and development as central to their company culture.

In order to continue to run successful businesses, leaders need to be continuous learners and they need to create a culture of continuous learning in their companies. Succession planning and management, leadership development, and employee advancements are intertwined processes that all begin with learning.

Also read: Is Your Learning Program Really Improving Workplace Performance?


Succession planning

Succession management or planning is a described as:

"Any effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department, or work group by making provisions for the development, replacement and strategic application of key people over time."

2015 State of Succession Planning Report

This process is crucial for attracting, retaining, and developing employees so that they can help the organization grow in strength, health, and stability.

The Brandon Hall Group in their State of Succession Report, found that only 3.9% of companies have a highly effective succession culture, while about 48% have limited succession strategies in place:

Succession Planning and Leadership Development that Works - Brandon Hall Succession Management Report 2015


This means that, unfortunately, about 84% of companies state that they do not have employees ready to move into critical positions.

While the results of the research are not the best, there are signs that companies are learning the importance of having a succession strategy in place. Companies are learning that they need to use technology and analytics to improve succession management, the importance of lateral mobility, and the need for higher budgets for this particular HR process.

Overall, successor development is improving and succession management commitment is rising. In time, the above graph should start to skew more toward the top, especially as businesses create plans and strategies similar to those of the top 4%.

Strategies for successful succession

In order to create a culture of succession, The Brandon Hall Group recommends the following strategies:

Goal setting – Companies need to create measurable goals that will guide the company toward creating a succession plan, while also aligning with their overall strategic goals.

Annual review – Goals should be reviewed at least annually in order to adjust them to changes within the company and to the business climate.

Clear job descriptions – As part of succession employees need to have clear job descriptions so they know what their current functions are and what the functions of leaders and managers are. This also helps employees understand their role and their career path.

Objective competencies – Companies should create models of performance evaluations and competency strategies, defining which ones are vital now and in the future. Employees should be able to get a clear idea of what competencies they should have and how they will be objectively evaluated.

Define roles – Each employee in the succession management process should have clearly defined roles. Everyone who has a role in the process is held accountable for its success.

Talent pools – The organization can create leveled talent pools based on various strengths.

Recognize talent – Employees need to undergo regular reviews so that employers can recognize talent and address areas of improvement. Employers can propose lateral moves, special projects, and training opportunities to help recognize and develop employees.

Program evaluation – Every year leaders should evaluate the current program of succession planning so that they can assess where they need to make improvements.

Also read: Proving Learning Value Is Hard But Not Impossible


Leadership development

When looking into development, there are actually two related factors: leader development and leadership development.

When looking at leader development, these are skills that are learned from the bottom up through different content resources. Skills including business understanding, quick decision making,and commercial perspective are highly valued as, according to the High-Impact Leadership Report by Bersin, only 60% of leaders have these vital skills.

Employees can learn various leader skills through online learning or from reading articles and discussing them with colleagues. Employees can also observe role models and role play learned skills with others.

Leadership development is the next step. In order to develop leadership, companies need to put leaders to work. Employees can learn to become leaders, but it takes interaction and communication to learn leadership.

When companies put a group of leaders together they learn to work as a team, they learn to communicate, and they learn how to review progress. They learn how to use their leader skills in the best interest of the company.

Bersin also concluded that companies where leadership is part of the culture saw an increase of 37% in profit, per employee and had leaders who were 5 times more likely to expect changes and react to them successfully.

Also read: The Future Of Your Organization Is In Its Culture Of Learning


Learning through volunteering

Companies like Deloitte, Microsoft, and Google promote volunteering not only as a way of giving back to the community, but also as a way to learn to become a better person, employee, and leader. Research has shown that volunteering is valuable because it provides authentic learning; promotes creativity; and exposes employees to new environments, other learning styles, and different viewpoints.

When companies are able to develop skills that create leaders, as well as leadership, they create a culture of upward mobility and succession management.

Successive leadership

Successive leadership is the ideal system in organizations as it incorporates all employees, continuously training and developing employees to create a culture of upward mobility and succession.

This kind of systems has advantages for both employees and employers.


Knowing that there is the opportunity for promotion leaves employees feeling more respected, valued, and engaged. They will mostly likely want to work harder and have a more active role in their career development.


Using this system, employers can trust that staff will respect the values, mission, and goals of the organization. An organization can be sure that there is an employee who can step in case of retirement or reorganization. Business will continue to run smoothly as this system can help retain employees. They will have the training for higher positions and the awareness of what it takes to do other jobs.

Through successive leadership, a system where all employees have the potential for upward mobility and leadership, companies can be sure to attract and retain their best talent, ensuring that the business will be able to adapt to any workforce changes.

As much of the workforce begins to reach retirement age, companies can begin to put more emphasis on training employees. This investment in learning and development can help build an effective workforce that can drive company growth.

It is never too early to start looking for the best in your employees and possibly your next leader. 

Guide: Creating An Effective Learning Plan Learn how to create a learning plan for you and your team.     Download now

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Ilie Ghiciuc
I've been an entrepreneur for the past 10+ years building great software companies together with fantastic teams. I like to spend most of my free time reading :)