The Missing Link: Four Steps to Ensure Successful Succession Planning

By: Jose Lopez, Product Center of Excellence Manager, Succession & Career Development 

After a year of planning, countless hours of crafting presentations, checking relentlessly for accurate information, and facilitating hours of talent review sessions, you are ready to present your Board of Directors with their annual succession report. The report includes a profile of each succession candidate; neatly detailed with key information, talent statistics, target roles, and essential development opportunities. As usual, the presentation is well received and your diligent efforts get the same kudos they have based on your hard efforts. What happens now?

A key indicator of a successful succession plan is the number of identified succession candidates who actually do fill succession roles. If this outcome is important to you, and your team, are you clear about the link between what is captured in the succession report and what actually takes place in the growth and development of succession candidates? In many cases, this is a missing link in succession planning.

Here are four key steps to ensure that your succession book results in development action.

Step One: Capture detailed development notes from your talent review session.


Talent review sessions are a remarkable investment in time and an important consideration for senior leaders to plan against the talent strengths and gaps of future leaders. Talent discussions offer rich insights and opportunities on how succession candidates might prepare for key roles. In many cases, these valuable recommendations are taken on board by succession facilitator who is tasked with leading the session. Consider adding an additional resource to talent review sessions that can faithfully capture developmental notes with accuracy and attention to detail. This additional investment is minimal considering the extensive time and resources dedicated to talent review sessions.

Step Two: Distribute talent review notes to the managers of succession candidates.


There is little value to insight if it is not shared and applied. The first step in making sure that developmental opportunities are communicated to succession candidates is to ensure that their managers have the information they need. In some cases, development notes may be collected from talent review sessions in which the direct managers not present. Ensure there is a clear and consistent process for talent review session notes to be distributed. If you are using a succession planning application to support your process, ask your vendor or implementation partner how this process can be automated.

Step Three: Prepare managers to have career and development discussions with succession candidates.


In some cases, managers are understandably reluctant to engage succession candidates in career discussions. Concerns typically center on building unrealistic expectations, reinforcing sense of entitlement, and losing key talent. These are legitimate concerns that can be addressed in thoughtful training on effective career discussions. When managers are not prepared to lead career and development discussions, chances are the most insightful developmental notes will remain hidden in a book on the shelf. This can be awkward for both parties, if not prepared for properly.

Step Four: Hold managers and succession candidates fully accountable for the outcomes of your investment in succession planning.


Your organization’s investment in succession planning may be extensive. The hours of time for direct manager and executive involvement in the process alone may be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the intended outcome of this process is to ensure that succession candidates received the developmental feedback they need and deserve, individuals should justifiably be accountable for taking necessary actions. For many companies this translates into managers having a “people development” component of their performance expectations. Another logical accountability is to require and review completed development plans of all succession candidates. The adage, “what gets measured gets managed” applies aptly when it comes to driving succession outcomes.

There certainly is nothing extraordinary about these four steps. Except that so often they are skipped or shortcut, and when combined an organization and its employees stand a greater chance for success. Each step flows from a common sense approach to talent development.