If your executive team is made up of seasoned leaders who have served the company well but who are ready to pave the way for new people with new perspectives, you aren’t alone. If you have succession plans for these pivotal positions though, you are in the minority. Many organizations haven’t invested in identifying and, more importantly, developing their future leaders.

This was exactly the situation of a large non-profit in the senior living industry. The CEO, a man in his early 60s, considered his officers – an experienced, competent, well-functioning team – and concluded they were unlikely successors because they were all quite a bit older than him. He knew he needed a plan for appointing a new officer team and replacing himself but he understood that a succession plan would be just another dust collector unless it was paired with a succession management plan – a roadmap for developing the potential of the people identified as possible successors. He brought in leadership development consultants who concurred.

Following best practice, the consultants met with the entire executive team — officers, senior vice presidents, and vice presidents — bringing them together around a succession management strategy. This ensured that all perspectives were considered. Participants were encouraged to share their experiences and observations regarding roles and people. The affirmations and respectful challenges that came out of these discussions brought objectivity to the decision-making process.

The consultants initially had this team concentrate on key positions at headquarters. Limiting the scope like this had two benefits: it narrowed the focus to the positions and people the team knew well, and it trained them to repeat the process, without the consultants’ help, for field positions.

The consultants and the leadership team met three times to plan succession: the first time to identify these mission-critical, or pivotal, headquarters positions; the second time to review talent in the organization and identify high-potential people and their development needs; and the third time to name people with potential to be developed for specific pivotal positions. This process resulted in a slate of candidates for pivotal roles, identification of gaps – pivotal roles for which no internal potential successors could be identified – and a catalog of the development needs of the succession candidates. It also resulted in a communication plan after the team, in their third meeting, discussed what and how to communicate with succession candidates and who should do the communicating.

Now the real work begins for this organization. The VP of HR must work with her team to recruit high-potential talent from the outside to fill the gaps in the succession slate. She will also need to work with the consultants to create and pilot that all important succession management plan, a leadership development program for the succession candidates. This will begin with multi-rater assessments of the candidates’  leadership skills. Participants will then be guided to use the results of the assessments to create their own individualized development action plans. And the ultimate step will be the design of a “leadership academy” with a curriculum that includes skill-building workshops as well as other formal training and development opportunities.

This relatively simple succession management process has so many benefits for the organization. At the top of the list, of course, is the creation of a plan for ensuring that talent is available to fill pivotal roles, avoiding disruption to the business by either planned or unexpected departures of key people.

Perhaps equally important is the increased likelihood of retaining the talented people identified during the process by investing in their development. A 2022 study by UKG revealed that lack of career development opportunities was cited by 59% of employees overall and 65% of managers as reasons for contemplating quitting.

The last, but certainly not the least, benefit to the organization is that every member of the current leadership team develops a shared perspective on the positions and people who are vital to the organization. They recognize the importance of viewing people not as assets of a particular department, but as organization-wide assets.

About the Author

Patricia Schaeffer: Pat is co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners, a consulting practice that helps companies maintain a robust leadership pipeline through succession planning and leadership development. She also co-founded Silo-Busting Networking, practitioners whose mission is to ignite employee’s ability to create strategic networks that break down obstacles to growth, productivity, communication, and collaboration.

She has contributed articles to the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (HR Pulse Magazine), Association for Talent Development (TD Magazine), Chief Learning Officer Magazine, World at Work (Workspan magazine), among others. Topics have included organizational culture, silo-busting networking, and training and development.

Pat is a Trustee of Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary; part of the Membership Committee Leadership Team for Beacon, a premier executive networking organization; and serves on panels for the Advisory Network for Small Business. Pat is also a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team. Contact Information: Patricia Schaeffer, Talent Strategy Partners LLC, (http://www.talentstrategypartners.com/), pschaeffer@tsphr.com, (215) 275-7430