There is a ton of research on how failing to plan for succession has a terrible impact on organizations and how millennial talent craves development and growth. Knowing this is not usually enough for organizations to plan ahead. We in training and development (T&D) have a holistic approach to talent and an appreciation of soft skills. This is our opportunity to gain a seat at the table and impact change that drives organizational success. Training and development is a tool in the leader’s arsenal that helps engage, retain and grow talent, and mitigate the risk of no successor (or a poor one).

Mitigation is focused on identification of successors by intentional and effective development and mentoring. The most common barrier to developing successors is the insecurity or inability of a leader to create one. We have a job to do.

We must get leaders over the insecurity of creating successors. Historically, baby boomers and Gen Xers worry that millennials and Gen Z will replace them. These kids were born sitting at the computer and they tend to be better at innovative thinking on the fly. However, we the elders, have a ton of knowledge to share. Sir Francis Bacon told us “knowledge is power” and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben told us that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

We in training and development have a responsibility to change minds and create more effective leaders. We need to help drive the understanding that two (or more) people can be good at the same thing, or that we can all be good at different things and drive our organizations forward as we learn and grow together. We need to value our differences and recognize that multiple styles and approaches can be effective. Diversity of thought creates stronger and better teams with more potential.

A successor does not need to have the exact skill set as the prior leader. Let’s change culture, learn about appreciating different styles, and drive toward common goals. Let’s value balanced teams and not duplicate weaknesses by hiring a “mini-me.” Let’s have a funeral for the old way and focus on creating learnings that identify alignment with the organization’s core values and strategic growth plan.

Let’s focus on the differences and build from there. Here is what we can do.

  • Work with HR business partners to understand the state of talent and identify strengths and weaknesses. Let’s partner and create development plans in concert with the nine box diagnostic development tool.
  • Map alignments between organizational competencies and development programs targeting preferred areas of impact. These are the things the organization wants the employees to do well. We can help solidify the how and why behind the what, and build programming that supports the structure. We can help translate behavioral competencies into measureable contexts and teach leaders how to assess them.
  • Help leaders appreciate and create learning environments valuing best practice, knowledge sharing and competency alignments creating benchmarks that show a return on investment over time. Learning cultures have already been proven to increase employee engagement and that increases productivity as well as the likelihood of retention.
  • Assist in individual development plan creation, assessment development and behavioral style assessment.
  • Create programs that map and tailor technical vs. soft skill gaps: coaching programs, mentoring, creating connector leaders, etc.
  • Lead action learning programs where people identify and work on real business problems with a facilitator.

T&D professionals align paths to meet needs from vision casting to emotional intelligence. If we build robust succession planning into the overall talent management structure, then we can effectively manage the risk of a skills gap. We must have a seat at the leadership table. We must help leaders understand that hiring for technical skills over soft skills might be a recipe for a slow brewing storm.