Combine Succession Planning and Leadership Development

#4 of 9 in our weekly succession planning blog post series:

Our guest blogger, Paul Riley is life-long learner of Organizational Leadership and Change who applies systems thinking and community development principles to help people work more effectively together within the complex human systems we create.

This week’s blog post focuses on the second principle of the 7 principles of successful Succession Planning: #2: Combine Succession Planning and Leadership Development. Succession planning is not only about recognizing leadership gaps that exist in your organization today, but also identifying future leadership needs and creating solutions to address those needs. To meet the challenges of a changing environment, organizations need to plan and work toward establishing capability to adapt. Therefore, it’s essential to build a sustainable pipeline of people with the knowledge, skills, and experience to lead the organization into the future. Although it’s not always possible to accurately predict the future, organizations that put serious effort into planning will generally be more successful at anticipating needs before they arrive and have the capability to effectively navigate the changing landscape.

Organizations are more likely to develop deep and enduring leadership bench strength when they create a long-term process for managing talent that combines succession planning with leadership development. These processes are complementary in that succession planning traditionally focuses on identifying candidates to fill potential or anticipated vacancies and leadership development focuses on preparing candidates for promotion. In my experience, organizations often treat these as separate and independent processes, and they typically place more emphasis on identifying succession candidates than developing them. However, placing increased emphasis on development has a positive impact on retaining top talent, because employees feel engaged and motivated by opportunities to learn and grow, and they are more prepared to successfully move to the next level in their careers.

One of the best ways to identify and develop future leaders is to provide a variety of challenging work assignments. Research suggests that exposure to novel and challenging situations in the workplace promotes development of leadership skills and has a sustained impact on leadership behaviour. And an added benefit of experiential learning is that the organization often achieves its strategic objectives while simultaneously facilitating learning and development. Because a person’s early career is a critical period for learning, organizations should use experiential learning methods to expose emerging leaders to a broad range of problems and situations. Exposure to these experiences will not only equip emerging leaders with the knowledge and skills to adapt to changing business needs, but it will contribute to a sustained corporate culture and institutional memory.

We probably intuitively know that experience is the best teacher, since it’s estimated that organizations rely on experiential learning to provide as much as 70 to 80 percent of developmental experiences for their managers. But the key is to be intentional about it by designing processes and systems to help employees identify potential knowledge or skills gaps and then assign them to projects or positions within the organization that will meet their learning goals. It’s also important to provide opportunities for feedback and reflection to facilitate learning, but I’ll talk more about that later in Part 6 – Create Opportunities for Practice, Feedback, and Reflection.

It’s important to remember that succession planning and leadership development programs have a common goal: to get the right people in the right positions at the right time. By combining the two processes organizations are able to establish a sustainable leadership pipeline and ensure that they’re both identifying and developing top talent.

Want to know more about the Seven Principles of Succession Planning? Stay tuned for Part 5 of this series, when I discuss the third principle – Include all Levels of the Organization.

Be sure to check out our other Succession Planning blog post in this series:

What’s so important about Succession Planning?

The 7 principles for successful Succession Planning

Aligning Succession Planning programs with the organization’s strategy