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Succession Planning Simplified

HR is complicated. There are many subfunctions and activities within HR and it is really easy to get caught up in what they all do, what they mean, and how they interact with each other. The known fact is that every single activity within HR is connected in some capacity. 

At ScaleHR we have held the firm belief that everything in HR flows through the “employee experience lifecycle”. It’s three distinct yet connected phases that an employee experiences throughout their employment with an organization. The phases are:

  1. Employee Attraction
  2. Employee Engagement
  3. Employee Retention

The benefit of talking about HR within the employee experience lifecycle is it is easy to understand, and HR leaders can easily explain this concept to non-HR business leaders, and they’ll actually understand it. In simple terms, an employee is in the Employee Attraction phase as a job prospect and then job candidate. Once they start working for an organization they immediately move to the Employee Engagement phase. This is the phase where new employees are introduced to the organization and their colleagues, get up to speed with “how we do things here”, obtain job and career objectives, start performing and being productive, adding value to the organization, and so forth. Once the employee is close to operating at full capacity they quietly move into the Employee Retention phase where they focus on what is next for them. They are looking potentially at a promotion, lateral move, doing skills development, taking on stretch projects and other assignments, etc… It’s important that the lifecycle is described in this post because the practice of succession planning is the connection point between the second phase and third phases. 

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So, what is succession planning? 

Think of succession planning as an insurance policy. An organization is preparing in the event key people decide to leave the organization, and this happens all the time. When this happens, what does an organization do? They could do nothing, hire externally, or promote internally. In order to promote internally, you need to have an active succession plan so that “next-in-line” employees are ready to hit the ground running and set up for success. According to leading HRIS solution, and ScaleHR partner, Hibob, succession planning is the process of preparing their people for future roles to support continuous business functioning. Not only is the organization protecting themselves with potential productivity dips with employee turnover and organizational change and transition, they are also tapping into one of the core drivers of employee engagement, which is career and skills development. 

The interesting thing about the majority of SMBs in the tech industry is that most do not have active succession plans. Out of the more than 50 tech SMBs that we have worked with during the past number of years, only a handful do succession planning. There are many reasons why this is a startling statistic, but the focus is on what succession planning is and how it works. 

How does succession planning actually work? 

We always advocate using a simple model for succession planning to get started. These plans can get pretty complicated if you integrate competencies. For now, let’s focus on a simple model that we have adapted from our friends at Hibob. The steps are:

  1. Identify your critical positions that may need a successor. 
  2. Develop a profile for each position—identify the top 3-5 key activities and associated performance indicators. 
  3. Highlight which of the identified positions can be, or potentially, filled by a successor in your organization—note: you will likely identify roles that don’t have a suitable successor, and in this case, you will likely have to recruit externally when the time comes. 
  4. Brainstorm employee names for each position identified in step #3 and have a conversation with them to determine their interest in developing towards a promotion (note: not all employees are interested in working towards a promotion). 
  5. Create a plan for each employee in step #4 and fully integrate into your performance management cycle for them. The plan should clearly identify the employees’ current state (skills, abilities and performance), required future state in the new role, and the gap that exists between current and future states. 
  6. Actively manage through the performance management process. This requires a full commitment between the manager and employee, with a strong commitment to building skills, supporting the employee and encouraging failure through the process of learning. 

We encourage HR leaders to use a simple Google Sheet to get started—click here to access a template. Of course, if you have the resources and have identified succession planning as one of your top stratetigc imperatives then we highly recommend you using niched software. Have a look at a platform called SuccessionHR or, if you already use an HRIS like Hibob (hint hint… we highly recommend Hibob) then you could leverage their new Workforce Planning module. 

The concept of succession planning is not overly complicated but actively managing it and the process can be. It requires full commitment and keeping the plan alive on an ongoing basis. One of the things about getting started is that once you do, and you’re organized with keeping things on track, you will be amazed at how positively your employees will receive it. It’s one of the top ways an organization can tap into the emotions of your employees. By focusing on their skills development for the future of your organization creates a positive emotional response that aligns to feelings of being cared for, respected and valued. This is a win-win all around, and your organization will reap the short-term and long-term benefits.

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