The rewarding, yet daunting, task of developing a pipeline of qualified leaders is imperative for today’s learning and development leaders. In fact, the pressure of minimizing or even eliminating the vacancy gap of the most critical organizational roles has caused some organizations to reallocate financial and human resources in exchange for in-depth consulting expertise in creating, articulating and executing a succession planning strategy. Before succession planning can take root, leaders should prepare to address three specific areas: transparency, talent management strategy and professional development resources. Without a clear consensus in these areas, succession planning will remain a “nice-to-have” rather than an innovative competitive advantage.

Transparency in Building a Solid Bench

A 30+ year HR vet by the name of Warren Rothman asserts that effective succession planning enables an organization to build an internal talent pool that feeds the overall vacancy pipeline. As risky as it may appear, organizations must be honest about their intent to develop future leaders. If honesty were the deciding factor, I’m willing to bet that most organizations that fail to publicize their succession planning process also see little to no movement toward the success of their initiatives. This reality is usually evident in attrition or noticeable skills gaps in leadership.

Transparency in succession planning creates shared accountability between the employer and the employees. The employer must be candid about the needs of the business and who within it are most qualified to meet those needs. The employees must be willing to strategically assert the skills necessary to perform the job function of their prospective role while also being completely candid about skills gaps. When these two levels of transparency collide, it creates vulnerability on behalf of the employer and the employee as well as an opportunity to build trust where trust may not otherwise exist.

With transparency comes the exposure of apparent skills gaps as well as anticipated resentment from employees who may have been looked over for future opportunities. It’s important for leaders to consider these risk and be prepared to have the appropriate conversations and leverage the right resources to support the succession planning process while sustaining a healthy workplace culture.

Manage Your Talent Before Your Talent Manages You

As attractive as the career opportunity has been, human resources (HR) professionals are challenged with balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of the people. Maintaining this balance is not always simple because of the complexity of business operations and the diverse make-up of the staff. What’s clear is the growing demand to recruit and manage qualified talent, particularly in the age of startups. This demand is leading to increased partnerships among HR professionals, learning and development experts, and organizational development consultants as they team up to deploy people strategy initiatives.

Regardless of the industry or company size, it’s important for stakeholders to understand the four phases of the employee life cycle: pre-boarding, onboarding, in-boarding, and off-boarding:

  • Pre-boarding: the activities, interactions and engagements that occur before an employee joins a team or a company.
  • Onboarding: the activities, interactions and engagements that occur within the first six months of an associate’s joining a team or a company
  • In-boarding: the activities, interactions and engagements that support an employee’s career development journey while working within a team or a company.
  • Off-boarding: the activities, interactions and engagement that prepare for an employee’s successful departure from a team or a company

Considering these four stages in the talent management process ensures that employees receive the learning and development necessary at every stage of their career. Managing the employee life cycle well helps to support succession planning at every stage.

The Balance of Leadership and Job-functional Skills

There are many debates about whether leaders are born or made, with good critical discussion that could support both claims. In both cases, leaders must possess core leadership competencies and have the ability to navigate the contemporary challenges associated with leading people, processes and change. Often, succession planning fails because we’ve focused only on developing the core competencies or on the contemporary challenges.

Organizations that want to truly master leadership development have to invest in both areas. It’s true that some individuals are born with innate qualities that may propel their leadership ability. It’s also true that some leaders are developed out of their ability to handle adversity or unforeseen change in the moment. In either case, it requires an in-depth level of knowledge, skills and abilities, coupled with the wisdom and emotional intelligence to exercise them.

Building an internal bench is not just about filling a gap. It’s about strategically preparing for a successful future while tactfully sustaining an effective business operation. It’s about an intentional focus on the true needs of existing and emerging leaders while establishing a standard for the business and stakeholders. More than anything, it’s about transparency and commitment to the process. Though it may take time to see and enjoy the fruits of your labor, taking the necessary steps to develop your pipeline of diverse, qualified and high-performing individuals is never a waste.

Learn more about this topic at Kristal Walker’s session at the Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) this June.