Is There Anyone Who Can Step Up? A Succession Planning Guide

Katie Humes, Assessment Consultant


6 Group recently conducted a global Talent Management Survey in which we found that succession planning and talent pipelining are the two of the biggest problem areas facing talent managers. In response to this, 6 Group’s Business Psychologist and Assessment Consultant, Katie Humes, details some key considerations for building a strong and lasting succession plan.

Succession planning is a process for identifying talent within the organisation who either presently have the skills to progress in the company, or who have the potential to develop the skills which would stand them in good stead when holding more senior positions.

The benefits to succession planning are at least two-fold.

Firstly, it provides the organisation with a comfortable level of contingency. For example, if someone abruptly leaves, develops an unexpected illness, or is approaching retirement.

The second is that it enhances the feeling of being valued as key talent within the organisation which, in turn, improves retention and organisational commitment from those employees. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that employees who feel that they have genuine opportunities for development have a greater intention to remain with their organisation.

Identifying a Talent Pipeline

The first (and most vital) part of the process is to identify the individuals within the organisation who have the drive, appetite, capability, and resilience to move forward in their careers, either imminently, or in the near future.

Imagine a sports team where the players on the field were the only ones available – with no one sitting on the bench waiting to step in if needed. What happens when the players are fatigued or injured? The team would be forced to play one team member short or suspend play until someone was called in. This scenario will seem foolish to most sports fans. Yet, there are organisations who are unaware of who in their organisation may be ready to step up into a more senior position, if needed.

A robust assessment process is required in order to identify individuals who have the potential for more senior roles, as well as those who have the ambition to work towards those roles. The assessment process should ideally take into account their current performance within the organisation, utilising perspectives from people they work with and their performance metrics. It should also involve a standalone assessment of their future potential. The assessment should be consistent, so that the same capabilities are measured for all individuals who wish to be considered for more senior positions, and should allow for individuals to demonstrate their ability to move laterally as well.

That said, simply knowing who could progress into higher positions is not enough. There is a need to provide development opportunities in order to improve the employee’s readiness for step up.

Developing the Talent Pipeline

Consider a further sporting scenario, where you have individuals who are sitting on the bench, and have watched the game, but who have never played the game themselves. Imagine that player being substituted in. Without the benefit of actual, personal experience, how effective are they likely to be on the field? As with sports teams, employees need to have opportunities to learn and ‘practice’ the skills they will require in more senior roles.

Once the key talent has been identified, a mixed method training process is beneficial in order to train those individuals to develop the skills they will need at a more senior level. In doing this, organisations ensure they have key talent on the bench, and that they are game-fit and ready to perform when needed. Again, this provides an active sense to the individuals of being developed in their careers, as well as ensuring they have the requisite skills needed once a position becomes vacant.

This process should ideally involve a mixture of classroom-based training, peer-support, mentorship, workplace shadowing, coaching, on-the-job learning, stretch assignment opportunities, and other forms of practical applied learning. The employee’s aspirations and progress through their development should be logged and tracked on their development plan, which should be revisited regularly in order to ensure they are still working towards their ambitions and the organisation’s needs.


Succession planning is an effective way for organisations to ensure smooth transitions from incumbent leaders to new leaders, without looking externally. The process is beneficial to both the organisation, and the individuals, and also provides a sense of stability, commitment and security throughout the organisation. In order to design an effective succession plan, an organisation should:

  1. Have a Clear Talent Pipelining Strategy

Consider the organisational structure, the positions that are likely to become vacant, and create a consistent process for developing individuals to fill those roles.

Consider the capabilities which are most important to the leadership team.

  1. Design a Talent Assessment Process

Ensure it is accessible to all individuals within the organisation. The assessment process should ideally take into account individuals current performance (considering their strengths and development areas), as well as looking at their potential.

The process should identify:

  • employees who would require significant development in order to step up to more senior roles
  • employees who require some development in order to step up
  • employees who are ready for the step up
  • employees who need more stretch at their current level and may be overdue a step up
  1. Invest in Talent Pool Training

Once individuals have been placed into the talent pool following the assessment process, provide both structured and on-the-job training and development opportunities in order to get them ready for the step up.

6 Group has been a leading facilitator of transformational change for some of the world’s largest organisations for over a decade. Across 2017 alone, we’ve conducted a number of organisational redesign projects, succession plans, leadership assessments and talent pipelining projects. 

To find out how we can help you transform your talent management strategy, get in touch.

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