Solving Succession Planning: See the questions and answers from the webinar

Succession Planning

Solving Succession Planning: See the questions and answers from the webinar

See the answers to the audience questions from the Solving Succession webinar, on where to start, how to get buy-in from leaders and more

At the Solving Succession Planning webinar, South African experts discussed their perspectives on the value of an effective succession process. Panellists shared how their organisations tackle the succession puzzle, the approaches they follow and what risks they see in ineffective strategies.

There were a lot of interesting questions from delegates, both before and during the webinar. We've answered them below according to the following themes:

  • Getting started with succession planning (yel)
  • Insights and data within the succession process (green)
  • Communication and buy-in (blue)
  • Policies, guidelines and best practices (red)

Getting started with succession planning

Q: When looking at setting up succession plans where do we start?

In simple terms, we advocate measuring potential and performance for Succession Planning, as well as gathering qualitative feedback. There are a number of ways to objectively measure potential from various perspectives, for example competencies, cognitive ability and Learning Agility. Similarly, we recommend making use of quantitative performance data on both competencies and job KPI's. This information can then be integrated into an overall picture per individual - as well as on a group level. Receiving feedback on one's potential and performance is the first critical step of development.

Q: Where do you even start in a small company that doesn't have resources?

Additional resources are not always required when one first begins considering Succession Planning; formulating a long-term goal, conducting a skills audit and determining your future skills requirement are precursors of the succession process that can be undertaken internally without incurring additional costs. Once you have created a vision for succession, you can begin planning and budgeting for the remainder of the process. It is also important to note that succession is not a standalone process. Data from other talent management processes such as recruitment, performance management, exit interviews, and job profiling is incorporated into the succession plan. We would also recommend that you start succession on a few very critical roles first and then expand from there.

Q: How many layers down should your succession strategy go in a small to medium sized organisation vs. a larger enterprise? Does business size matter/affect how you approach succession planning?

The size of the organisation is not as significant as the purpose of the role in the organisation. A role would not have been created and filled if it did not play a vital part in the organisation's functioning. However we do know that there are some roles for which there will always be a large pool of external candidates available. The focus should therefore rather be on unique, rare skill sets, leadership and mission critical roles. In our experience, organisations usually conduct Succession Planning on their leadership and technical specialist roles. While business size may impact on time, budgets and resources, it should not affect the core Succession Planning process.

Q: When is best to start with succession planning in a very new organisation with a mostly young workforce who have expectations?

Due to the rate of change, Succession Planning is a key strategic talent process that should not be affected by the age of the organisation. As long as there are people in the business, they should be taken care of as a key asset.While we advocate being respectful of an individual's aspirations, these ideally need to align with the organisation's strategic requirements. Holistic career management that incorporates succession is one way to build engagement and improve retention.

Insights and data within the succession process

Q: How do we identify and groom top talent in preparing them for succession?

In simple terms, we advocate measuring potential and performance within Succession Planning, as well as gathering qualitative feedback. There are a number of ways to objectively measure potential from various perspectives, for example competencies, cognitive ability and Learning Agility. Similarly, we recommend making use of quantitative performance data on both competencies and job KPI's. This information can then be integrated into an overall picture per individual - as well as on a group level. Receiving feedback on one's potential and performance is the first critical step of development.

Q: When successors are identified, do you recommend that we do assessments with these individuals to identify their development areas in line with the position?

You could definitely conduct assessments on your successor pool to determine their gaps and set the direction for their development. However, typically we recommend assessing individuals before they are identified as successors by looking at potential for the successive role. These results can be used to determine their suitability for succession, and can also then feed into their development journey. Low potential represents possible limitations, while high potential (without demonstrated skill) represents room for development.

Q: How do you justify one employee being a successor and not the other? What tools are there to utilise besides the 9-box grid?

Consideration for succession needs to be based on objective criteria, e.g. potential for the successive role, qualifications and so on. These organisational requirements need to be weighed against the individual's perspective as well. The 9-box matrix has been around for a while, but is not always used effectively. It is still probably the best way to visualise performance vs. potential of possible successors. What has improved dramatically is our ability to objectively plot both potential and performance from multiple sources and integrate this with qualitative input from all stakeholders.

Q: How do you determine learning agility - assess or measure?

HFMtalentindex has pioneered the measurement of Learning Agility for both decision making and development. Our Learning Agility reports are based on psychometrics validated, standardised and normed for South Africa and internationally benchmarked. Furthermore, development is facilitated via an interactive, online development tool that is automatically individualised per person. For more information on how we measure Agility and the types of outcomes, click here.

Q: What do you consider as the ideal approach of measuring the readiness level of potential successors into critical positions?

We advocate looking at performance in the current role, potential in the prospective role and qualitative feedback on a deeper level, both from the perspective of the individual and the line manager. An ideal approach gives due consideration to the objectively verifiable requirement criteria as well as the individual's context. It involves interpreting data as well as exercising judgement based on insight into the individual's functioning.

Q: Please discuss recommendations/examples of how assessment of talent is being done, the models and tools being used.

Talent is assessed in terms of both potential and performance. Each of these may considered from a number of perspectives, for example potential is a function of one's personality, cognition, motivations etc. Similarly performance must be considered both in terms of actual delivery as well as how delivery was achieved. Assessment of potential is best achieved through the use of objective, validated measurements such as psychometric assessments. Performance may be determined via well established hard KPI measures as well as feedback gathered via well structured processes. At HFMtalentindex, we use the 360-degree feedback methodology to gather insight into competency performance, and the Big Five model of personality for insight into competency potential.

Communication and buy-in

Q: How do you convince senior management of the importance of succession planning and the investment in training people?

Senior management is very invested in the vision and strategic long-term goals of the organisation. As with all talent management processes, a good starting point is to link business goals and needs to the talent and skills required to deliver them. Investing in growing your talent is as critical as investing in any other business asset. If you are starting off on your succession planning process, it's also a good idea to involve leadership in the planning phase, to take their questions, concerns and ideas on board.

Q: What messaging should be sent to the business about succession plans so as to not create expectations, and how can feelings of disappointment be mitigated for candidates who were groomed for succession but unsuccessful?

Succession Planning needs to be "normalised" in the workplace. It should take its place as a critical component of comprehensive and strategic talent management. Traditional approaches to succession were done behind closed doors, but more modern approaches advocate communication and transparency. Talking about succession should be as non-threatening as talking about recruitment or employee wellness. The important message to communicate is that the organisation is aiming to eliminate the risk of a critical role remaining vacant when an incumbent leaves, and that consideration is being given to everyone's career path.

There are no rules about what to communicate with individual employees who have been shortlisted for succession - this would very much depend on the organisation - but one strategy could be to share that they have been highlighted as high achievers as part of the succession process and what this entails, rather than focusing on a specific role.

Q: How do you get buy in from employees identified as successors? Is the first process to have a meeting where they informed that they are identified as successors?

Succession is merely an option in career management and should not be regarded as the sole career path for the individual. There may also be more than one successive role that the individual could have potential to fulfil. Successful succession brings together and involves all the relevant stakeholders, including possible candidates and line managers. Individuals want, and should have, control of their careers, so their aspirations form a vital part of the succession decision making process. A conversation with candidates is a good starting point to explore their aspirations and career goals further. In an ideal world, this type of conversation would be a regular occurrence between employees and their line managers as part of a growth-centric performance management system.

Q: Who should the final succession plan be communicated with? Should it only be shared with the Board and Management, or should it be shared throughout the organisation?

Succession is a fluid process and is rarely cast in stone. Organisational requirements may change, and similarly individual aspirations and personal circumstances also change. An organisation's succession plan is their strategic plan that does not need to be widely shared beyond the board and senior management, and we would not advocate sharing it throughout the organisation.

However, what is often debated is to what extent the potential successors should be informed about the outcomes. We find it important to include the individual's perspective in succession planning in understanding their career aspirations, goals and appetite for development. A potential successor could also be informed that they have been identified as a high achiever/top talent in the organisation. However, that does not mean that the conversation needs to centre around one particular role or future career path.

Policies, guidelines and best practices

Q: How do you balance Succession Planning and Employment Equity when it comes to recruitment and/or promotions?

Succession Planning and Employment Equity need not be perceived as opposing concepts. A holistic succession and recruitment process takes many factors into consideration, one of which could easily be equity requirements. The spirit of Employment Equity and Affirmative Action is about empowering the previously disadvantaged - an ideal which ties in nicely with the developmental aspect of Succession Planning. During the webinar, Nomaswazi Ngwane spoke to the importance of diversity and transformation in succession, and highlighted the need to tie these back into the strategy and direction of the organisation.

How many candidates can be identified for development in succession planning for one position?

There are no hard and fast rules about the number of potential successors per role. How imminent is the possible vacancy of the role? How ready are your successors? These are some of the considerations in determining the number of candidates. In the webinar panel discussion, Nomaswazi Ngwane made reference to the ratio method for shortlisting successors. In the immediate future, you should ideally have one individual who could move into the role, in the short term future, perhaps two individuals, and in the longer-term, perhaps there are three contenders. This is only an example of ratios, and would largely depend on your organisation in terms of size, development budget, turnover, retirement and so on.

Q: Whose responsibility is it to have a succession plan for individuals within an organisation. Is it HR, the individual or both?

Succession planning is an organisational process that helps to achieve business goals, so it needs to be spearheaded by HR as well as leadership. As individuals, we should all have a career path/ plan in place. Development can't happen if the individual doesn't put in the work. It makes sense for the individual and organisation to be partners in the career planning process and in mapping out their development journey.

Q: If more than one candidate have been identified for succession planning, how do you ensure fairness in the process of their development?

Development is not something done to or for an individual, but should be driven by the individual her/himself. The organisation does have a duty to ensure that equal opportunities and resources are made available to all individuals expressing interest in development.

Q: Succession planning takes time. What if you have an HOD about to retire in a year and no succession plan in place and yet don't want to fill the post externally?

Research has shown that previous work experience is not a very strong indicator of performance in a leadership role. However, objective measures of potential (e.g. personality, cognitive ability, Learning Agility) are far superior predictors of leadership performance. A year is sufficient time to identify the potential you have in your organisation and conduct the necessary career conversations. However, if there is a lot of development required for your successor(s), then time could become an issue.


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