How to Create a Succession Plan

Employees in line as part of a succession plan

Workers are finally asking for something that should have been given prior generations—a simple, transparent process of career advancement, with plenty of feedback and opportunities for development. All in all, an open succession plan is a reasonable request. After all, the principles employees are requesting—fairness, simplicity, transparency, accountability—are the foundation for all successful talent practices.

Use Succession Planning to Build a Stronger Team

So what is succession planning exactly? A succession plan is the system by which an organization ensures its own ongoing success by determining who moves up, into what positions, and based on what level of development.

At its best a succession plan is easy to understand and highly transparent, with plenty of actionable feedback and opportunities to advance. When designing your planning process, focus on making the system and tools so simple and easy to use that you’re guaranteed adoption and ongoing development.

There are four key elements to include in any lean, effective succession planning process:

  • Proper Tools to eliminate bias and produce workable data.
  • Simplicity to guarantee implementation.
  • Transparency to take any mystery out of the equation.
  • Accountability to ensure the plans are followed, the loop is closed, and the cycle of leadership continues.

Use the Proper Tools

Using standard tools such as the “PxP” or “Performance and Potential” grid helps standardize the process, eliminating bias and synthesizing multiple stakeholders’ assessments. The PxP grid is a simple 9-box grid that records performance on one axis, and potential for upward growth on the other. It can quickly pinpoint those with succession potential.

Succession planning’s role is to determine who moves up in the organization. When lining out a PxP grid, managers must have a direct and honest discussion about a leader’s ability to move up, not about their values, ambition, or any other proxies for upward potential—those are just components of the ability to move.

Define potential using actual titles. Discuss whether Marta will be the CFO in three years, not whether she has the potential to “move up two levels.” Also, avoid “high potential” assessment tools—no single test can assess potential to succeed in the wide variety of scenarios that you’ll encounter.

And don’t forget to calibrate your ratings. We all unconsciously apply individual biases when we rate others. Marta’s final potential rating should be decided by her own manager, together with their departmental or regional peers.

Strive for Simplicity

Succession can be a sensitive topic, with real consequences. For some managers it’s the last thing they want to address, and the work can pile up in the process. By bringing succession and professional development into your regular routine, you eliminate awkwardness and set clear expectations on both sides of the desk.

If your process stays simple, twice-a-year PxP reviews aren’t an administrative burden. They also ensure your plans are current, and realistic.

And make all forms, processes and instructions available to everyone. Employees might ask some tough questions when they first see your succession planning process and tools, starting with “what is succession planning?” But the alternative is to not tell them—and let them assume you’re hiding something they should know.

Transparency is Key

Employees need and deserve actionable information to make their decisions, and there’s no point in hiding things—or appearing to do so. Tell people their honest potential.

It’s faulty logic that drives us to withhold this kind of information: The fear that disappointed employees will run for the door, or high potential employees will feel entitled. But open communication means high potential employees need to be told about their status, or they will likely explore other opportunities.

Will some people be upset that they’re not high potential? Maybe, but they won’t necessarily run for the door either. Especially if you’ve let them know why and communicated what they can do and what they need to be successful.

Everyone deserves to know the likely direction of their career, and what active steps they can take to change things. Increasingly, workers will assume you’re going to share this information, and may become increasingly disengaged if you don’t.

Keep Up Accountability

Because succession planning is a transparent process that can only be judged by its results, it all depends on follow-through. Accountability is where most orgs lose their nerve. But without clear accountability, even the most well-intentioned manager may not spend the requisite time to identify and grow their team’s succession candidates. Managers must also be held accountable to tell employees the results of succession planning conversations—it’s the only way to ensure transparency.

Follow-through, of course, also means professional development: Planning who will step into which role is a great start, but growing the talent for it is what truly matters. After each succession planning conversation, managers should have a list of “gaps” that must be closed to ensure succession can take place—and be held accountable, in their own performance review, for progress in closing those gaps.

Ready to Build a Transparent Organization by Planning Ahead?

Requests for a transparent, employee-forward succession plan are reasonable and achievable—and while a succession plan is crucial to the life cycle of a healthy business, it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Monster can help as you build, with the latest in free management resources and strategies to help you move forward with confidence.