arrowCrosschq Blog

Leveraging Your Talent Pipeline for Succession Planning

There’s not just a talent shortage occurring: there’s a leadership shortage. Building succession planning into your recruitment pipeline is the best way organizations can address this looming issue.

Using your talent pipeline to help bolster your succession planning can help you recognize and nurture talent not just in external candidates and new hires, but internal employees who have shown promise or who aren’t being sufficiently challenged. Here’s how to prepare select employees to step into leadership positions as needed in the future.

What’s Succession Planning?

You’re the CEO, CFO, COO, or other major executives of a major company, and you are active in the day-to-day running of and decision-making for your organization. What happens to your company if you choose or need to step down? Will there be a seamless transition as a well-prepared successor steps into your shoes, or will chaos reign?

With succession planning, the first is more than a possibility; it’s a planned for, carefully orchestrated event that leaves shareholders, employees, and customers calm and confident that business will continue as usual.

Without succession planning, the latter is far more likely; scrambling to fill the empty position while struggling to calm fears and reassure stakeholders that the company won’t collapse. Obviously, the former is the preferable outcome.

Crosschq 2023 HR Planning Calendar

What Is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a strategy designed to fill that gap between current executives in the C-suite and the employees a rung below, who have been carefully chosen for their current position but may not be properly groomed to move up into a position of more complex responsibility.

Lack of a solid succession plan can mean a hurried but prolonged search for an outside candidate who may or may not know the industry, and who will have to work hard to earn stakeholders’ and employees’  trust.

By ensuring your recruitment pipeline includes internal candidates, and building succession planning into your hiring, promotion, and L&D processes, you can ensure that any top executive who needs or wants to walk away won’t leave a wrecking ball in their wake.

Identifying Gaps in Succession

The first step in succession planning is identifying gaps in the promotion chain. The wider the gap is between the leadership position and the next rung of the ladder, the harder it will be to find appropriate internal candidates. 

Additionally, the narrower the line of succession is running downhill, the more problems you are likely to have with filling an empty spot. Promoting the sole individual from a rung below simply leaves a new hole in the chain of command, and the issue continues.

Make a chart of all employees in the organization and plot out who (if anyone) would move into what position if a spot above became available. Then figure out who would take that vacated position, and so on. 

Also, look at what responsibilities each role requires. This will help you determine where skills and knowledge gaps may also exist, so you can work on adjusting your outside recruitment strategy and building L&D projects to help create customized promotion opportunities.

Recruiting for Succession Planning

After your organization’s talent gaps have been surfaced and mapped, you’re ready to start shifting the focus of your recruitment efforts towards future-proofing your workforce. You’re no longer looking for the perfect fit for a role right now; you’re seeking individuals who can be (and want to be) groomed for leadership positions.

This is a dual-pronged effort; you’ll be leveraging the talent you already have inside your organization to develop it, as well as sourcing external candidates to fill vacated roles in order to keep the line of succession as intact as possible. 

External candidates

Building a pipeline of future talent means surfacing individuals who have both the skills currently needed for your organizational news, and the potential to turn into strong leaders by gaining the skills your company will need in the next five to ten years. 

To identify top talent, focus on core competencies. Leadership material doesn’t just have hard technical skills, but soft skills as well; leaders need to be able to connect with their workforce, inspire them, and command respect through example.

Don’t wait for the candidate who is a 100% match for your wish list. Perfect candidates don’t exist, and even if you do find a “unicorn”, you run the risk of overpaying for that talent and then losing them a year later to a competitor. 

Finding diamonds in the rough who have the core skills needed and training them internally for future leadership roles not only ensures that you can have that 100% candidate eventually, but that they will have greater loyalty thanks to your investment in them.

More than half (54%) of companies say they are now planning to spend more on executive development. Identifying strong talent with leadership potential is a stronger long-term talent strategy than blowing out recruitment budgets in bidding wars for “ready-made” candidates.   

Crosschq Free Headcount Planning Template

Internal candidates

While you’re developing your new approach to recruitment externally, pay equal attention to the talent you already have in place. You could already have the ideal people for demanding high-level just a few rungs down in your organization.

These employees deliver on Quality of Hire, but are currently under-challenged and underutilized. They might even be an attrition risk simply because they aren’t being fulfilled by their work, and they are longing for growth opportunities and more responsibility.

Setting these candidates on a path to eventual promotion can help you stabilize your organization’s command structure, and prevent skills gaps from leaving you vulnerable to the competition. 

There are two things to remember when adding internal candidates to a leadership track program:

Managerial buy-in

Make sure that your managers are looped in and reassured that the loss of a star employee to a promotion won’t leave them scrambling. Having buy-in at lower levels is just as critical as support from the C-suite.

If your managers know that you are establishing a strong talent pipeline to keep vacated positions filled with top talent, they won’t be as hesitant to recommend their best workers for advancement.

Employee buy-in

It's just as critical to make sure the employees you’ve identified as having the skills and potential for leadership also have an interest for it. Some employees don’t want to be in charge; they are happiest doing what they know and love and don’t require an authority to thrive.

That doesn’t mean they don’t look for the chance to advance; their dream move might just be a lateral one rather than a shift into a more senior role. Identifying both types of employees and creating appropriate opportunities cements loyalty and gives you the chance to develop buried talent and create the leaders of your business’s future.

Relationship Building

For both internal and external candidates, building strong relationships is key to attracting, retaining, and promoting top talent. 

External candidates shouldn’t be sourced over and over from scratch for every job posting. Build your own talent pipeline full of potential candidates that you’ve already at least partially vetted. Keep in touch with them to maintain engagement; even if they weren’t the best candidate for your most recent open position, they could be perfect for the next opening.

Internal candidates should be identified early, then engaged often through regular exploratory conversations. This will help to cultivate relationships with your top talent and get them interested in advancement well before a position even opens up.

Advanced planning will let you surface their strengths and weaknesses, so you can support them in filling skills gaps. Empowerment through L&D is one of the things workers put as a top priority when choosing where to work, and 90% of employees in one survey said personal L&D is vital to their job satisfaction. 

New call-to-action

Succession Planning Supports Core Business Outcomes

Succession planning is about more than just putting someone new behind a desk that’s been vacated. It’s about developing the talent available to you to take your company to the next level, by building a bespoke leadership pipeline.

This requires a strong strategy to be put in place well before serious leadership gaps present themselves. Being proactive rather than reactive can improve employee retention at all levels, and prevent the chaos that plagues many companies when a critical role is suddenly found empty.

Identifying potential gaps and building out your “succession bench” will be an ongoing cycle designed to secure and support the continued health of your organization. By honing your recruitment strategy to embrace succession planning, you’ll be ready to hire and/or promote top talent into key roles at any time, without disturbing workflows or morale at your organization.  

Including succession planning in hiring aligns perfectly with business goals. It reduces costs associated with employee attrition and recruitment and prevents loss of productivity or weakening of workforce morale during times of leadership change.

By embracing succession planning as a normal aspect of talent acquisition development, you can cut retention, improve loyalty, and establish a strong knowledge base that won’t be destabilized by the loss of a single executive.

Crosschq’s Hiring Intelligence Platform™ includes the ideal suite of tools for transforming your recruiting process. To learn more about how Crosschq can help you leverage your talent pipeline for succession planning, contact us for a free demo today. 

Katie Kennedy

by Katie Kennedy

Talent Consulting Lead

Take the Guesswork
Out of Hiring

Schedule a demo now
ESTE_cropped este_sm cta_light