We have all been surprised when a key leader in a business we’ve supported announces without warning, he or she is leaving.   The natural reaction is often a bit of panic and the thought “what will we do now?!”

Think how nice it would feel to have a well thought succession plan already in place, where you can pull it up and see who is ready to step into the vacant role.   Building a simple, effective talent management program will strengthen your organization and enhance your credibility as the People Leader of your firm.

Rally the Executive Team

As expensive as it is to pull the executive team together in person to focus on talent management, it is probably the most impactful People Meeting you will have each year, or better yet, multiple times a year.  For the greatest return on investment, the Business Head should not only be present, but co-facilitate the Talent Review with the Head of HR.   This sets the tone and ensures the engagement of the full team.

Know What You Have & Know What You Need

The best place to start a talent/succession discussion is with an assessment of your next level down’s performance and potential ratings in a variety of competency areas.   Each leadership team needs to agree upon the competency areas critical to their success and direct managers should come to the talent discussion with the performance and potential ratings for their staff.   In the actual talent/succession meeting, when each staff member is discussed, the direct manager will often get good insights from colleagues that changes ratings.    As 360 instruments often reveal, an individual may be adored by their boss, but coupled with feedback from a broader audience provides a more realistic picture.    In the competency areas where you consistently don’t see individuals being rated highly, it is a red flag that the organization needs to develop or recruit talent who can deliver those needed skills.

Building Back-Ups

Outcomes of the talent/succession meeting are commitments to develop your highest performing & highest potential staff members so they are ready to assume a more senior role when it is available.  During the talent meeting, be sure to create an organization chart reflecting the existing leadership team, with one to two boxes underneath each leader.   Then spend time matching your best talent to the future roles that leverage their skills. It is an easy way to visualize who “is on the bench” for each key role.   Take time to discuss and note if the potential successor is, “ready now “will be ready in 1 – 3 years” or “will be ready in 3+ years?”  This helps you gauge if you need to do some external recruiting to import skills in the short run or may help you accelerate specific development plan timing.

Avoid Possible Bumps in the Road

Even a well thought out succession plan can run afoul.   Talented individuals who executive management have listed in their plans, sometimes can surprise us by leaving.   For this reason, it is smart to make sure you are communicating with potential successors often about how highly they are thought of and that they are aware of the developmental activities you have them engaged in and why.    Another  potential set back is if a business has an immediate need and quickly hires in a replacement without considering the succession plan in place.   In those rare cases, the head of the business needs to communicate the reasons behind it, or the credibility of future talent/succession discussions are at risk.

Demand for talent/succession discussion facilitations will increase, as your business leaders experience the value of them and will want to have successors lined up deep within their own organizations.   


About the Author:  Susan Tinder White leads a dynamic human resources consulting practice that provides people solutions to business needs. Susan has over thirty years of experience solving human resources issues in large, complex global organizations and has served on multiple business executive management teams. Susan has expertise in recruiting, executive coaching, organization development, diversity, employee affinity groups, talent assessment and performance management. Her experience includes driving change in over 1,300 locations & over 13,000 associates.Before retiring from JP Morgan Chase in early 2014, Susan was a Senior Vice President & Human Resources Executive. Susan was instrumental in building customer and employee focused teams. She built a national recruiting team of 100 professionals who hired 19,000 retail employees in one year. She helped change an HR delivery model supporting 100,000 managers & employees and then ran a 50 person HR virtual Consulting Contact Center. She served on a core team that launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission; a coalition of an initial 11 companies committed to hiring 100,000 Veterans by 2020. Susan increased an employee disability business resources group membership from 700 to over 4,500 members and expanded into 4 more countries in the three years Susan was Co-Chair.

Susan is a Senior Professional in Human Resources, holds a B.S. in Business from Indiana University & has completed numerous post-graduate courses. She has taught at the University of Indianapolis as an adjunct faculty member & has been certified to train by several training & development firms. Susan recently was awarded the JPMC Access Ability Advocate Award.

Contact Susanswhite@susantinderwhiteconsulting.com .