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Six Actions Talent Development Can Take to Enable Succession

The links between an organization’s talent development efforts and the process for succession planning are pretty clear. The talent development function provides the developmental programs that take potential successors from “ready in X year(s)” to “ready now.” 

When it comes to the succession planning process, best-in-class practitioners do much more than create curricula; as development needs are identified for potential successors, they get actively involved meeting those needs, developing roadmaps that include experiential learning, providing structure around developmental assignments, and capturing on-the-job learning. They manage special programs for high potentials and leverage learning opportunities that support retention of key employees. And they use analytics to provide evidence of progress.   

But there’s another deeper and more strategic link between talent development and succession—it’s not about supporting the succession planning process; it is about enabling succession. It comes from creating a culture of learning. Here are six strategically important actions a great talent development function can do:

  1. Build training for the future of the business. Work with C-level sponsors to anticipate the competencies that will support the strategy of the organization.
  2. Build broad talent pools. This means that development extends beyond the knowledge and skills needed for success in the current role to those required to succeed in the next role, better yet, in several possible next roles. And creating this continuum of talent isn’t just about leadership. It can focus on all critical roles, from technical to sales to staff.
  3. Develop tools that support mentorship. Make it easier for every incumbent to prepare her/his potential replacement.
  4. Implement development programs that promote and enable management synergy. Provide tools and training that help employees, especially leaders, create networks. The wider the network, the more potential opportunities for develop appear (side benefit: One of the common limiting factors in the typical succession discussion is how many potential candidates are widely known). Another is how well decision makers know (and therefore trust the recommendations of) others in the process. Solid networks mitigate these issues.)
  5. Educate leaders toward a global and inclusive orientation. This isn’t just a reaction to our tendency to round up the usual suspects when it’s succession planning time. It prepares leaders to think more broadly as they make the day-to-day decisions that enable people to get the skills they need to move up. And it gets more people noticed.
  6. Use development programs, especially leadership development, to create a shared view of what it takes to succeed. Consistent and widely shared models create a common language for succession discussions. Consensus is easier about who is ready and what to do to get people ready.

There’s one other key link that development can provide that is both tactical and strategic—workforce analytics. The development function is uniquely positioned to provide proof. We can use training evaluation data, skill assessments, and company metrics to demonstrate the gaps that exist, the progress we’ve made to fill them, the depth of our bench, and the strength of our teams.

Download i4cp’s Talent Development Strategy Playbook (i4cp members only).

John Cone’ chairs i4cp’s Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board and is the former head of learning at Dell.