In a tight talent market, succession planning should be a core part of any business's workforce management and development plan. Building a pipeline of talent ready to take on progressively greater responsibility and leadership in an organization is key to driving success, especially in the constantly evolving IT market.
Building a strong "bench" of strong talent starts with identifying, engaging and nurturing high-potential employees at all levels, and then working to develop their strengths and retain them long-term. It sounds simple enough, but the truth is, succession planning isn't easy -- it takes a determined, concerted effort to be proactive about the process, instead of simply reacting when your business is faced with a key skills gap or a vacant role when an employee leaves or is promoted.
"Most organizations do a good job of planning for the future when it comes to the business strategy and with plans to achieve set milestones like profit, growth and market share. But where many fall behind is the inability to plan, in equal detail, how roles will be filled with appropriate talent in support of that strategy. The same way we do SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analyses for business strategy, we should be doing the same for talent," says Dominique Jones, chief people officer and vice president of HR at Halogen Software.
Start with the basics
A good succession planning strategy starts with great communication and lots of feedback, Jones says. It can begin as early as the interview process with identifying a candidate's strengths, weaknesses, interests and career goals. Once an employee is hired, managers should have regular, ongoing performance and career development discussions with their employees to explore competencies and job descriptions for potential future positions, she says.
"None of this happens effectively without great communication channels, especially regarding career aspirations and skills -- both strengths and gaps. Managers need to be really engaged with every step along an employee's desired career path, so they can describe and help to develop the knowledge, skills, abilities and experience employees will need," Jones says.
Plan out next steps
As part of these conversations, managers should identify potential next steps, learning activities and developmental assignments that will prepare candidates for future roles. Managers and employees can also use this time to plan specific learning goals and then monitor skill acquisition through a transparent and open development plan that's discussed and reviewed regularly, Jones says.
Finally, executive leaders and managers should meet to discuss the performance and potential of employees on an ongoing basis so that everyone's on the same page, and no one's caught off guard if a vacancy happens, Jones says. "These meetings also present good opportunities to discuss succession planning strategy overall, and to identify high potential employees in particular who could fill the organization's talent pipeline," she says.
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