Identifying business-critical positions. Recognizing talent in your organization. And working out what you’d do if they fell ill or left. Three steps otherwise known as succession planning. But it’s a process many managers try to avoid. Because identifying talent isn’t always easy. And forced distribution can make it feel like extra admin. So HR must step in and help managers use succession planning tools properly so they can identify brilliance and work out any risks within their teams.

Why your organization needs succession planning

Succession planning forms part of talent management. And it underpins other development activities to grow and retain employees. But managers need guidance. Often, they know their shining stars. But spotting the rough diamonds can be harder. And some want to put everyone in a top box. So you need to help them objectively identify true talent. And make succession planning an important part of your everyday business. Consider:

  • Why succession planning matters, even at a team level
  • How to spot true talent – characteristics of high potential employees
  • Succession planning tools and how to use them effectively

Why succession planning is important at every level of the organization

Succession planning is critical, particularly now. Talent everywhere is considering a move. So managers must get proactive. They must understand who’s in their teams and what risks they face if someone were to leave tomorrow.

For many organizations, succession planning is done at the top. But it must be a company-wide effort. Managers everywhere must assess their teams, for both current and future potential. So they need to know why succession planning matters to them:

  • Strengthen teams. Succession planning highlights people’s abilities so you can get the best from them. Great managers put people in roles where they can excel. And give opportunities to learn and grow. So employees are motivated to do more and deliver better.
  • Retain your best people. Great talent doesn’t wait around if it isn’t being developed. Employees move to other teams internally or better opportunities elsewhere. So managers must identify their strongest players who show potential to grow. And provide opportunities worth staying for.
  • Demonstrate leadership. Some managers are experts at growing internal talent. They develop their team for bigger roles. Get consistent results regardless of team membership. And regularly make great hires. All signs of a brilliant leader and someone that companies want to invest in. So managers must find great talent and get them ready for the next step up. Because you’ll have a gap to fill when that manager gets promoted.

Senior leadership doesn’t have the same visibility of talent, especially at junior levels. So managers throughout the business are responsible for identifying who’s got potential. But it can be hard not to play favorites, and pick consistent performers. Even when they don’t always demonstrate the leadership qualities that high-potential ratings demand.

How to spot true talent – characteristics of high potential employees

Not all roles are business-critical. And identifying high potentials can create conflict. But managers are closest to their teams. So they must understand and recognize what makes a high potential, enabling you to retain future leaders through talent mapping.

Each company assesses potential differently. But there are common traits in high-potential employees:

  • Consistent results: they deliver. Time and again. Their weekly check-ins always move forward regardless of setbacks, because they’re driven by achieving results. So look for green ticks and over 80% completion as your baseline for high potentials.
  • Self-motivated and creative: they look for solutions. They’re innovative and understand business change. They take ownership of delivering tasks. And are open to future opportunities. In the pandemic, they rolled up their sleeves. And jumped headlong into whatever came their way.
  • Strong technical skills: they have expertise in their current role and use that knowledge to analyze issues. They approach problems strategically and provide options others can’t see. So identify people who willingly share their expertise and offer advice to help others grow.
  • Leadership and collaboration: high potential employees are supportive and inspiring. And others want to follow them. They’re happy to take questions and deal with challenges. So in team meetings, they absorb other views and use them to expand their own thinking.
  • Align with company values: These people seek work environments where they know they can thrive. And they live out the company values day-to-day. They’re highly engaged. So offer suggestions where the company can grow or solutions where it’s starting to fail.

Succession planning tools and how to use them effectively

So, now they understand it, managers need tools to map talent objectively. The 9-box grid tracks performance versus potential. Provide clear definitions of terms and help managers evidence their decisions. Use:

  • Weekly check-ins and monthly reviews. Regular feedback provides great input. You can evidence consistent delivery. And spot those going over and above.
  • Recognition reports. Look for employees regularly nominated by peers and managers alike. And identify those also giving recognition. Collaboration is key, so they actively celebrate the contribution of others.
  • 360° feedback. Understand individual strengths and weaknesses. And identify how that fits with promotion. Use feedback to highlight those ready now versus those needing additional opportunities in their current role first.

Succession planning isn’t just about high potential. But you need to understand them to be able to plot others. And be objective. Don’t just play favorites. Be aware of bias and use the evidence to support decisions.  

Your shining stars go in the top-right box. However, consistent delivery that lacks demonstration of company values must be placed elsewhere. Technical excellence can be business-critical and leave a big hole when it’s gone. So create a plan for how to replace them. But don’t rate them as having high potential unless the other characteristics are there too.

Managers aren’t always involved in succession planning. But in a fast-moving world, recognizing talent is essential. So get everyone identifying your potential leaders. And secure business growth for the future.