From the junior to the executive level, it’s natural for our teams to be thinking about “what’s next” for their career. While it’s great to have ambition about your personal goals, there seems to be a disconnect when we think about how the future looks for our companies.

The lack of a strong succession plan is a growing issue among American companies. I suspect it’s because we don’t like to think about, or talk about, the reasons we might need successors.

Let’s take succession out of the equation for a moment. Ultimately, leadership development is the foundation of a healthy business. These tactics for preparing your future leaders can make a difference in the performance of your team—starting today. 

Make Development Part of Your Culture

It’s a mistake to treat succession planning as a “future issue”. It’s impossible to know what the future holds. Retirement is only one of many reasons you may need to replace someone in a leadership role. Many of those reasons could become a reality very suddenly.

As such, it’s important to make succession an ongoing part of your leadership strategy. A natural way to facilitate this is to ask the right questions during performance reviews and one-on-ones, with every single person on the team. Where someone is now isn’t always an indicator of how far they could go.

Standardize questions like, “which skills would you like to develop?”, “what do you see as your biggest contributions to the team?”, and “how can we help you take your job to the next level?”

These are questions some people on your team may need some time to think about, but it’s important to hear their answers. Encourage managers to follow up with teammates as needed.

Map Out Your Talent Pool

The beauty of working in the corporate world is that we’re always surrounded by a diverse range of skill sets. Yet, what good are our people’s talents if we don’t know what they are?

Documenting the strengths, achievements, and skills of each team member allows us to see what our teams can offer. By creating an inventory of the resources on your team, you can get a bird’s eye view of your talent “bench strength”.

Not only can this inform the leadership trajectory of your people, but it can also help you assemble more strategic teams and assign the right project leaders.

Are you ready to take the next steps toward building an unstoppable team? Our complimentary ebook, “Leading the Business”, part of our four-part Balanced Leadership™ Framework, contains key insights for aligning culture with strategy. Download your copy today

Identify Talent Gaps Early

If you’ve taken the time to map out your talent pool, you’ll notice an important by-product of the process. By taking stock of the skills your business has, you’ll also be better equipped to identify the competencies your team needs more of.

From there, you have a few options. You can develop internal personnel to broaden their existing skill sets, thereby closing those skill gaps. However, you may find some gaps are too large to fill with internal development initiatives alone. The other option, then, is to hire people who embody the skill sets your team needs. 

While you’re at it, it’s wise to predict the talent gaps you can expect in the near future. If your best performer in a certain department is being developed for an executive role, it’s wise to start developing someone else to follow in their stead.

Invest in Development Opportunities for High Performers

Obviously, developing successors requires opportunities for development. Leadership development courses are one way of providing that, but internal development opportunities are much more effective at helping future leaders understand the business, develop critical skills for their next role, and develop relationships with key players. Consider offering mentorships, job shadowing, or even asking your future leader to stand in for the incumbent during vacations or sabbaticals.

High-potential people should be aware of their contributions and rewarded with ongoing development opportunities like this. 

A perceived lack of upward mobility can cause leaks in your talent pipeline. Retain these valuable people by offering them frequent opportunities to train for the next big thing.

Establish Accountability for the Talent Pipeline

Don’t assume all managers know that succession planning is one of their responsibilities. Developing people to become tomorrow’s leaders is a critical business objective, and should be communicated as such.

That also means managers will need to be held accountable for succession planning goals. This can only happen if you’ve made it a priority to establish a realistic succession plan, along with action items and benchmarks for the leaders on your team.

Since succession is easy to file away as “tomorrow’s problem”, it’ll also be up to you to maintain momentum toward these goals. Check in frequently with leaders to ensure they’re on track. If the conversations aren’t happening, it’s likely that the work isn’t either.

Leadership succession is a crucial phase of our organizations’ life cycle. Intentional leadership development permits us to have a hand in the future of our businesses and prepare for a smoother transition when the time comes.

If you’re ready to start getting serious about succession planning, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.

6 Powerful Lessons From TED Talks About Leadership

The CEO’s Path through Uncertainty