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Succession management used to refer to the process of replacing a CEO when the position became vacant due to foreseen or unforeseen circumstances. These days, leading organizations understand the importance of implementing a succession plan for more and more roles across the company–in some cases extending to the larger population (managerial, professional, and administration). Succession planning is also an important way to identify, develop, retain and allocate key members of your workforce long before any talent gap occurs.

Top-performing employees are often looking for jobs that are engaging while their managers are continually looking for ways to motivate and retain them. In fact, when studies are conducted to find out what employees value in a job, career opportunities and development almost always appear at the top of the list. Retention of your high-potential employees is one of the keys to creating a motivated workforce and a more productive working environment.

By establishing a well-thought out succession plan, you’ll keep both audiences happy and create a positive impact on your bottom-line results.

Where do you start?

Identify leadership qualities

Most managers believe certain skills and attributes that can be recognized in a non-managerial role, if done well, are predictors of managerial success. To develop targeted leadership programs and identify employees with leadership qualities, as part a succession plan, organizations must determine the competencies required for success at key positions. There should also be buy-in from management regarding the list of qualities you are seeking so there won’t be a disconnect later when you find candidates with these attributes.

Designate top candidates

Another important aspect of succession planning is identifying whether or not you have a pool of qualified candidates ready to assume critical leadership positions. If you don’t already have one, how do you go about creating a pool?

  • Employees can identify positions and career paths of interest and work with their manager to create a development plan for the new role.
  • Managers can identify top-performers on their teams as having potential to move into new leadership positions.
  • Companies can utilize an employee database that includes job positions, skill requirements and a sorting / ranking / reporting function to prepare a list of qualified employees.

Difficulty may arise in identifying top candidates for succession to a specific job because the role often changes when a new person is selected to fill it. Once a job becomes available, many view this as a good time to revise the job as it has been filled previously and revise the job description to build more business impact into the position by restructuring the role or creating new responsibilities.

No matter which way you generate your pool of candidates, you should communicate the identification process to the candidates and make sure the candidates understand how they were identified.

Develop candidates for leadership roles

Companies should use technology, where appropriate, to turn push into pull – that is, empowering their employees to take an active role in their career development within the organization. Retention research indicates that individuals tend to stay longer where they are experiencing personal and professional growth. However, it may take time–possibly years–to develop even one viable candidate for top level positions and even longer to create a pipeline of several employees who will be ready to step in to leadership opportunities when they arise. There are a couple ways to develop your employees with an eye for succession planning.

Training: Encourage employees to attend on- and off-site classes with targeted training that enable them to acquire the knowledge necessary to move to positions with increased responsibility. These training plans must also include tracking systems to provide visibility into the progress of the high-potential candidate’s development. Internal career development programs are critical in retaining valued employees while ensuring greater control over the succession planning process.

Increase responsibilities: Assign work goals that are related to the increase in responsibility necessary for advancement within the company in a somewhat controlled environment. Examples–managing larger accounts, supervising people, etc. Or, you can create a structured path of employee positions with increasing responsibility.

Retain key employees and attract high-potentials

Identifying your employees as "high potentials" in the succession planning process can be a motivating factor in their retention. The two-way information flow allows employer and employee awareness of what is wanted and needed from one another. Expectations are clear. Companies know where they need leaders, and employees are realistically aware of how they fit into the corporations' bench strength requirements and succession plans. In addition to retaining your key employees, top talent will be attracted to an organization that has a reputation of developing leaders within the company.


Succession planning efforts should be designed within the context of an organization’s overall business plan. Since the strategic plan and corporate objectives direct the skills and abilities needed by the company’s leadership, these plans also affect the training and development implemented by the company. All organizations should incorporate a robust development program to be a part of the succession planning process to ensure the right people, with the right skills, are available at the right time to meet current and future business needs.

About SAP SuccessFactors

SAP SuccessFactors Human Experience Management (HXM) Suite helps you completely reinvent the entire employee experience. You can shift from traditional HR transactions to engaging, end-to-end experiences, using intelligent technology to make each interaction simpler and more meaningful. And by linking employee feedback to operational data, you’ll understand what’s happening and why, so you can continuously deliver unexpectedly exceptional experiences that keep your business growing.

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