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How to motivate employees through succession planning

Identifying and developing future management candidates – succession planning or talent management – was recently identified as one of the top three HR issues for the immediate future.

Given the current economic climate, it’s vital that organisations are not only as high-performing as possible, but also that they are prepared for the years ahead. Not only does succession planning lead to improved and cost-effective job filling for key positions and retention of key staff (and therefore of organisation-specific knowledge, experience, skills and values) – it also provides motivation and incentive for employees and helps foster a culture of internal promotion, development and career opportunities.


Analysis of the future

Succession planning needs to be closely linked to the business plan, in order to be a meaningful process. So the first stage involves looking at the future goals and strategies of the organization for the next few years, identifying the key job roles that are critical to the success of those objectives and strategies, and identifying what kind of employees, particularly at senior/managerial level, the organization will need in those roles.


Analysis of jobs

Once key job roles for the future are identified, the next stage is to pinpoint the key managerial competencies - skills, knowledge and attributes - that will be necessary within those roles. This can be done by using tools such as job descriptions, essay and application examples, person specifications and competency frameworks.


Analysis of people

This involves performance management processes already in place, but more finely tuned and in line with steps 1 and 2 above. I.e., performance reviews against objectives and also against competencies, to identify what people are achieving, and how well they are performing. Some areas of skill, knowledge or attributes may not be easily identified if the employee is not in a position to be able to fully demonstrate them. In these cases it is possible to assess these areas in more detail using tools such as psychometric and ability tests, group exercises, Occupational Personality Questionnaires (OPQs) and other assessment tools. An HR professional can provide advice, guidance and information in this area as well as conducting in-house assessments.         

As well as looking at the potential of individuals, it is also important to look at their career aspirations, preferences and constraints, to ensure that issues such as work-life balance and any other external factors are addressed. There are a variety of tools that may be appropriate to use in this process, such as the Work Interest Schedule, OPQ and Career Orientations Inventory.


Analysis of training, learning & development needs

The individual training, learning and development needs of employees can be identified using techniques in all of stages 1-3 above. However the key is to develop specific action plans or development plans for people, so that they undergo a structured development programme geared towards reaching a certain level of capability, rather than just ad-hoc activities.

Ask questions such as what do people need to be able to do/do differently/ do better in order to deliver the organisation’s future vision? The key thing here is to identify the ‘skills gap’ – the gap between where people are now, and where they need to be in the future. Then the focus is on how to fill that gap.



This essentially entails providing training, learning and development opportunities for employees; however the opportunities need to be ‘stretch’ assignments geared towards the level they are aiming for, not the level they are currently at. Therefore some of the opportunities they need may not be a natural part of their current job role, and so need to be created. For example:

  • Providing additional responsibilities within the job role to develop new skills and experience, such as supervisory or people management skills
  • Work shadowing people in senior roles in specific situations, such as interviews, meetings etc
  • Projects or secondments to allow experience of working at a different or higher level – job rotations, special assignments etc.
  • Involvement in cross-functional working parties, project groups, action learning sets etc.
  • Coaching or mentoring with other staff to develop knowledge in different areas of the organisation
  • Attending events such as conferences, meetings, charity sector events etc.
  • Attending specific and relevant internal or external courses

It is also essential that the people who are going through this process are actively involved and communicated with, so that they are fully aware of what they are doing and why, can take responsibility themselves for their own development and progression, and have an input into their progress and future.



Having done all the groundwork, the ultimate aim is to get the right people, with the right skills, knowledge and attributes, in the right jobs at the right time. A selection process would still be necessary, to ensure equality of opportunity both for people within and outside of the acceleration pool. However, the end result would be that people are promoted into higher-level positions based on merit and not on length of service or current job role.

Further information

And finally, a few notes on making all this as effective and successful as possible. Having a process that is lacking in transparency, that doesn’t provide equality of opportunity and that   can be divisive and counter-productive. Also, don’t depend too heavily on internal promotion, as you run the risk of the organisation stagnating due to lack of new blood, which brings new ideas, practices and experience. There should be an appropriate balance between home-grown talent and external hires (around 3:2 is usually about right). And be flexible - avoid the ‘eggs in one basket’ risk of person-specific and job-specific succession planning. This also increases the potential opportunities for people involved, rather than giving them a restricted and narrow focus.  Admittedly not all employees are scrambling up the career ladder – many prefer to ‘bloom where they’re planted’. But this doesn’t mean that they are excluded from the process, as succession planning shouldn’t be restricted to just senior roles. Good succession planning allows people to make cross-boundary career moves - movement within the organisation can be horizontal as well as vertical.

Like any form of planning, it isn’t about predicting the future or even being prepared for it – succession planning is about creating the future that the organisation wants and needs. So start putting a process in place, rather than leaving the future of your organisation to the fickle finger of fate!


Page last edited Jan 16, 2019 History

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