Competency-based Succession Planning: The Key to Developing Talent In Your Organization

Akshit Dangi

Competency-based Succession Planning: The Key to Developing Talent In Your Organization

In today’s day and age, there always comes a time in an organization’s life cycle when its leaders must choose and develop successors that can take over the helm and critical positions whenever required. 

However, succession planning is not as simple as deciding an heir to a kingdom by lineage. It is the responsibility of a company’s leaders that potential successors can take the mantle by developing the right competencies for the job.

To that end, competency-based succession planning is what we all must pursue. It provides people with the data and means to develop suitable competencies and gives organizations the information that’s required to efficiently manage, motivate, and develop their talent pool as per their needs.

Considering all that, if you’re wondering how it all works, you’ve come to the right place. Allow us to unravel everything there is to know about competency-based succession planning and how you can use it to effectively develop talent in your organization.

The 4 key elements of competency-based succession planning

Competency-based succession planning involves comparing a potential successor's current job, the future role they’ll take up, and the required competencies of the two. The main idea of this system is to put the right people in the right place by equipping them with the right knowledge and skills.

As such, four key elements are a part of this process:

1. A career development competencies assessment

This assessment is a primary data point for most competency-based succession planning processes. With this, we must identify and answer the following:

  • What is an individual’s level of potential and how has their performance so far been?
  • What are their strongest and weakest competencies?
  • What are the individual’s aspirations and desired career path?
  • What are the required competencies for said aspirations and how well do they align with their future role?

2. SMART goals

It is the job of the manager to set up SMART goals for the potential successor to create a timeline for their development and help them develop the required skills to take up their future positions. This will also allow the manager to evaluate the level of training and resources required for the potential successor’s development.

3. Skill management software

Having a comprehensive method of tracking an individual’s skill development is a must for any succession plan that relies on competencies. It also makes it easier for managers to make critical decisions regarding potential successors and work with others in calibrating the organization’s overall talent pool.

4. Future needs and possible roadblocks

Lastly, every time this process is conducted, a lot of effort is placed into determining an organization’s future growth, industry changes, changes in work structure and responsibilities, etc. Along with this, any possible roadblocks that a potential successor may face are also identified ahead of time so that appropriate solutions may be taken as and when they arrive.

Steps to implement competency-based succession planning

Succession planning has to have a methodical approach behind it. We’ve identified five steps to put competency-based succession planning into action:

1. Identify critical roles

As is the case with any talent management process, the first step is to identify what key roles and responsibilities are either going to be developed or vacated in the organization. These key roles can lie anywhere within the hierarchy and are usually aligned with the workplace’s future strategies.

2. Identify your potential successors

The next step is to identify the individuals with the maximum demonstrated potential in the workplace. The easiest way to identify these individuals is by conducting talent reviews. However, it is imperative that you keep any information around succession hidden from these people as you may find yourself in a sticky situation should the potential successors don’t take up one of the previously identified critical roles.

3. Conduct career development competencies assessment

To ensure you’re selecting the right person for a key job, conduct these assessments to evaluate their current skills and competencies and compare those with their requirements. If they are too far apart and different, the selected person may not be right for the role. But, if they require development, we can move on to the next step to equip them with the right skill set. 

Along with all this, talk to your potential successor and identify their career aspirations. This will help you align everything into one straight path that the potential successor can follow to take up bigger and more complex responsibilities.

4. Develop competency models for your potential successors

A competency model essentially describes and highlights a role's effective and efficient performance using the required skill set. Such a model provides plenty of insights into the role and what would be expected from a potential successor. A competency model would usually include the following:

  • Overview of the required skills to support the critical role
  • The measures and indicators of what you define as ideal performance measures.
  • The behavioral requirements for each competency
  • Technical skills or knowledge to support a competency
  • Timeline for developing the required competencies

5. Prepare the succession plan

With the assessment and the competency model, we’ll pretty much have everything required to finally prepare the succession plan. In it, include the future role, expectations, required competencies, and the exact steps to ready your potential successor for the position. 

With this, the planning phase is complete. All that’s left now is to communicate this plan with your team member and follow up with them regularly through 1:1s to realign and refocus if needed.

The 4 key benefits of competency-based succession planning

1. Builds organizational sustainability

One of the key reasons why any organization plans its succession is to increase its lifespan. If a key member of the organization is retiring or decides to leave, the leaders and managers should be well-prepared with a successor who can take up the critical role immediately. That preparedness is what competency-based succession planning provides.

2. Boosts the team member’s confidence and morale

One of the best feelings an individual can have at a workplace is knowing that their efforts are being duly recognized and they are being considered for bigger and better opportunities.

When people are made aware of such information, they are more committed to the organization’s goals and are much more likely to be productive in the long run. This is also a neat way for managers to retain the organization’s top talent.

3. Improves the rate and quality of upskilling in team members

Through a succession plan, your organization’s top talent becomes aware of the skills and competencies to fulfill their desired future positions and responsibilities. As such, their upskilling efforts gain much more focus and quality to take up bigger and more complex opportunities as quickly as possible.

4. Builds a positive work culture

Continuing what we discussed with the past two points—through a succession plan, your people would be much more productive and committed to their work as these plans make them feel valued and recognized. This, in turn, would start a positive chain of reaction as people begin to help each other be more productive, thus, building a positive work culture at the workplace.

Challenges that you must overcome

Succession planning, as great as it may be, isn’t without its fair share of flaws. The good thing, however, is that most of the problems that plague a succession plan can be easily overcome with careful planning and communication with your potential successor and other leaders of the workplace. But here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Never choose a single successor for a role

Succession planning is meant to be a flexible and continuously evolving process. As such, you must never rely on a single successor as the future can still be a little unpredictable.

For example, your successor may decide to pursue their career path at a different organization or switch careers completely. As such, ensure you select and train multiple successors for one critical job.

2. Do not halt development after succession has taken place.

If a candidate has successfully taken up a critical role, it doesn’t mean that their development can be halted or slowed down for some time. This should be especially avoided when individuals take up leadership roles for the first time and may not have adequate experience in actually handling the role.

3. Do not use a single competency model for all

You cannot have a single competency model for all your potential successors as all of them have different developmental needs. Following that, it’s also a massive no-no if you’re using the same competency model across different roles. Remember—no two managers can ever share the same role and responsibilities.

4. Never let your biases take over 

It can be involuntary, but one has to be mindful. Always watch out for the following biases when planning your company’s succession:

  • The Halo Effect: Letting first impressions govern your opinion of an individual
  • The Contrast Effect: Assessing an individual by solely drawing comparisons with others.
  • Similarity Bias: Thinking highly of an individual due to sharing similarities with self.
  • Conformity Bias: Assessing a team member based on what others think of them.
  • Confirmation Bias: Favoring information that aligns with your personal beliefs.

Succession planning is no easy task—we can all agree on that. But it’s not an impossible task either. With careful consideration and planning, it’s all in the bag. 

You can always plan your organization’s succession by simply reviewing the data you collect using talent reviews. However, checking and comparing their competencies is arguably a better way to ensure that your potential successors are ready to take the helm in the future, which is all that matters.

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