How to Integrate Succession Planning with Development Planning

succession planning Individual Development Plan

How to Integrate Succession Planning with Development Planning

If you work on your company’s succession planning program, raise your hand if any of the following statements sound familiar:

“Our leaders are engaged in the succession planning process but not so much in the development planning that follows.”

“The development plans of individuals in the succession plan are pretty weak.”

“Leaders have a hard time identifying the development needs of their successors because they think they’re so skilled at everything they don’t need further development.”  

Do any of these resonate with you? Despite our best efforts, individual development associated with succession planning is a challenge. This is unfortunate because research has found that succession planning programs linked to development planning are much more effective than those that are not.

Development planning is enough of a challenge on its own. You might even feel that linking it to succession planning is too much. Don’t write it off! There are things you can do to make it work for your situation. Here are some ideas for ways to build or enhance development planning in your succession planning program.

5 Ways to Integrate Succession Planning with Development Planning

1. Target a skill that is important to a position that the individual is a successor for.

Even if a person is considered “ready now” for a given position, the position for which s/he is a successor for will probably require new or different skills. Or perhaps the position calls for the same skill set to be applied in a different way. (For example, coaching skills for a Manager of Individual Contributors role versus coaching skills for a Manager of Managers role.) Hopefully those skills have already been identified as part of the succession planning process. If not, review the scope of the position and identify them. Next, assess the successor on those skills or review existing assessment data. What areas could the candidate use some additional development in that are also important to the position? Choose the most critical one and target the development plan to focus on that skill.

2. Target a skill important for a critical leadership level.

Some succession planning programs identify candidates for specific positions while others take a generic approach by targeting “the next level”.  Both are good options dictated best by organizational circumstances. In either case, different levels of leadership require different skill sets. For example, a transition from senior manager to executive may require a leader to become more versed in finance, strategy, or perhaps global market issues.

To implement this approach, identify the leadership level that is at risk in your succession planning program due to a lack of viable succession candidates. If you are fortunate enough to not have such a problem, select a leadership level that is important to your company’s future. Next, identify the critical skills required for success at that level. Use this information to target development efforts for successors to that level. This is a good approach for working with succession candidates who have difficulty identifying development areas because their current managers deem them “so awesome that they really don’t have any development needs.”

3. Target an area that is a skill gap across the organization.

Sometimes employees or leaders share a skill gap across the company. Review the assessment data from your succession planning program. What does it say about the development needs for your succession pool in general? Identify the development needs that span across multiple levels of the organization and target development for the succession pool to focus on those areas. Succession candidates can focus their development efforts on these areas – but they should still customize their plans to fit personal development needs. Of course there will be a few people who are strong in that area. Consider focusing their development on mentoring others in that skill rather than forcing them to implement a plan that won’t offer sufficient challenge.

4. Target a skill that will be important for the company’s strategy in the future.

A strategic succession planning program starts with a review of the organizational goals and objectives and identification of the leadership skills that will be required to achieve them. Those skills may be completely different from what is important in your company today. You might not have any data on the skill level of successors in those areas. If you don’t have that data, perform a needs assessment. Even if future positions have yet to be defined, you can still target development efforts to build skill in areas that future leaders will need to demonstrate to execute the company’s strategy.

5.    Focus development efforts on “medium potential” employees, not just the hipos, to build a diverse feeder pool. 

If you’re assessing potential as part of your succession planning program, you probably dedicate some attention to the diversity of your talent pool (and if you don’t, here’s why you should.)  If you’re not satisfied with the diversity of your high potential talent in its current state, there is no immediate fix to make it more diverse. You can, however, take steps to build a more diverse feeder pool for the future. To do this, you have to build the skills of the already diverse eligible population. Focus development efforts on the needs of the medium potential group, which is probably more diverse than the high potential group. Building their skills provides them with a better opportunity to be viewed as high potential in the future because they will benefit from targeted development efforts. This is a better approach than simply shifting individuals to the high potential group as a means of achieving greater diversity in the moment because it maintains the integrity of the program’s high potential criteria.

What have your challenges been in linking succession planning to development planning and how have you addressed them? Have you tried any of these methods? Share with us in the comments!

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Eileen Azzara