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Does my organization have the right people in place-not just for now but for the future? Are promising talents regularly groomed and prepared to lead when needed?

EI4Q presents four key questions for companies to assess their succession strategy readiness.

Grooming Talent for What's Next

Four Key Questions For Successful Succession Management.


Author: Kimberly Maucher-Lynch

One of my favorite holiday traditions is a visit to an orchestral performance of Haendel’s „Messiah“.  This year, a local concert hall hosted the famous conductor Helmuth Rilling with an orchestra and choir of young talents from around the world. I booked tickets and arrived early, eager to get a seat at the front to see all of the action live. 

The concert program for that night contained a note with a last minute change-Helmuth Rilling had taken ill-he was sorry to miss this concert and his assistant would take his place at the director’s podium. 

Moments like this happen all the time. In the technology space and in the world of music, changes in plan make it necessary for a proxy to suddenly take the lead. Helmuth Rilling’s assistant stepped up, at a moment’s notice, to assume a role for which he may have prepared over years of careful practice and study. 

In these days where transformation and change are a daily part of our reality, the need to nurture and drive solid succession strategies is more critical than ever before. 

At the conductor’s podium, on a production line or in the office: managers and HR Change Agents in all sectors need to ask themselves:


"Does my organization have the right people in place-not just for now but for the future? Are promising talents regularly groomed and prepared to lead when needed?"


Preparation is critical to ensure talent readiness, and companies can consider four key questions to assess their succession strategy readiness: 

1) Are we clear on which skills and job profiles we need to achieve our business goals?

AMA (American Management Association) recently published the results of a survey, whereby only 8% of companies reported having a full succession/development program which was aligned with the business’s strategic objectives. The necessity for a management successor can be planned (such as in a planned retirement of a manager) or unplanned (by sudden organizational or tactical changes), so it is important to regularly take stock of the internal talent skill base and to assess if the available skills match to the challenges a company is expecting to face. HR thought leader David Ulrich once said: „Succession planning doesn’t start with people. It starts with the requirements of the position“. Matching skill sets to strategic focus areas helps companies to gain insight on where adjustments are needed. Business leaders can partner with their HR Business Partners and Talent Acquisition experts to draw up plans for finding such talent, both inside and outside of the organization. Such plans should be reviewed on a continual basis to ensure the skills sought are aligned to the company’s planned direction.

2) Are career paths, growth opportunities and the steps to reaching these transparent to

Talents need to be clear about which job profiles and skills sets are needed to drive business results- not just for the present, but for the future as well. They also need to understand how to qualify for the next steps in their career. Such information should be readily available to all workers (for example in company portals or internal forums). Career enrichment, training and coaching are necessary to help talents position themselves to take on a new challenge when the chance presents itself. Employees are thus empowered to take charge of their career and job progression-this has positive effects on employee retention, motivation and engagement in their work. An employee job and engagement study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed that 89% of millenials and 73% of baby boomers see career advancement as key to engaging them in the workplace. In today’s work environment, it is not enough to show people where they can work today, employees also need to be shown opportunities where they can contribute to the company’s growth in the long-term. Creating succession plans for key roles and identifying potential successors for these jobs is thus a critical element of a robust business strategy.


3) Does our organization offer „stretch“ opportunities to allow upcoming talent to prepare for
    new challenges? 


Organizations can be hesitant to take a chance on an „untested talent“, however, promoting and fostering internal talent boosts employee motivation and connection to the organization. In his book „Succession: Mastering the Make or Break Process of Leadership Transition“, University of Michigan Professor Noel M. Tichy shows how assigning internal talent to key projects can boost and support a corporate succession strategy. In our example of the concert, Rilling’s assistant may have been able to gain valuable experience each time he practiced assuming the conductor’s role. By allowing employees to take intelligent risks and test their skills in real-life business situations, companies invest in valuable skill resources for the future. Internal talents bring their network and their knowledge of business processes, which can help them to be productive when asked to step into a new role. 


Fellowships, short-term assignments and strategic ad-hoc projects are wonderful ways for employees to gain skills and insight into new areas of their company. Talents who are allowed to take a lead with meetings with top management learn valuable skills in C-Level communication as well as exposure to top management who can support and broker further career opportunities. A successful succession strategy requires a leadership culture where managers are encouraged to see their employees’ success not as a threat to their own place in the hierarchy, but as an key element of the leadership mandate to foster and support talent. HR can act as a talent steward and provide a structure for managers to do this.

4) Are there regular and frank performance feedback discussions which support employee    
    development and the succession strategy? 


According to a survey published by CIPHR, 45% of HR leaders feel that an annual performance talk is insufficient to assess employee performance. Many companies have recently replaced their annual performance reviews with a more continuous dialogue between employees and managers. These exchanges can build a vital foundation for a conversation about performance and chances to build on skills for the future. 

A recent article from Dominique Jones stresses the need for an alignment between performance feedback and a robust succession strategy. In this, she explains the need to build a bridge between performance talks and development opportunities. Employees can use these reviews to better understand how their performance is perceived and to align development goals with upcoming business requirements. Future training and learning opportunities can be discussed with a view toward these and managers can also glean valuable information about their team member’s goals and work experience. They can thus make recommendations to their managers on employees ready to take on additional responsibility. 

Helmuth Rilling’s assistant ascended the podium that night and led a full orchestra and choir through a evening filled with holiday magic and music. As a talent, one may or may not know exactly when the request to step up and lead will come.The moment of succession can appear suddenly-companies and organizations of all kinds can thus benefit from a timely succession strategy which supports business continuity . With a focus on preparation and conscious development, companies of all sizes can strengthen their positioning for success, today and also for the future.  

If you are interested in a discourse on succession in today’s business world, please feel free to reach out to the experts at EI4Q. 


Here’s to your and your organization’s success!



1) Survey from the American Management Association on succession and business 

2) SHRM survey results on employee engagement and career 

3) CIPHR article on performance feedback and succession

4) HR Zone article on performance management and succession strategy


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