Building your company’s Succession Bench of future leaders

This article is part of our series on SIGMA’s six-step succession planning process.

Every company needs to know who could step into a key job when the current employee moves up or moves on to another role. This succession plan protects the company from the risk to operations of losing a top executive or key employee unexpectedly, and helps prepare for planned personnel changes, such as retirement or promotion.

Establishing what the critical roles are and evaluating who can eventually take over are the first two steps in developing a succession plan. Once your succession planning team has identified the critical roles to include in your succession plan and nominated succession candidates to fill critical roles in your company, you are ready to prepare a chart of the potential successors for each role to help you monitor and manage your talent pipeline.

SIGMA has developed a comprehensive template that we call the Succession Bench to help you chart who your succession candidates are for each critical role, ensure you have enough individuals progressing toward being able to step into the role, and track the successors’ development over time.

Using the Succession Bench

After your succession planning team completes the nomination process for a critical role and validates the results, you’ll have a number of potential successors in varying stages of readiness to take on the position. The Succession Bench chart lists them along with key information about their current position and function in the company, and projected level of readiness to succeed to the new role.

The Succession Bench is typically divided into three levels of successors, based on their readiness score. Level A candidates are ready to take on the role today, or within the next three years. Level B and C candidates need further development and will be ready within a longer projected timeframe. This information comes from the Nomination Surveys completed earlier and validated by the succession planning team. It may also be based on the urgency of the need to replace an incumbent whose exit from their position is planned or known.

This clear overview of your succession pipeline for each critical role allows you to:

See how strong your bench is at a glance

Ideally you will have at least three Level A candidates for all your critical positions. The Succession Bench chart quickly highlights any key roles that don’t have three individuals ready to succeed, and enables management to work toward addressing this gap.   

Track candidates’ progress from Level C to Level A

Measuring the time it takes individuals to progress through the readiness levels is an excellent way to monitor the effectiveness of your leadership development program. You want to see continual, consistent progress when looking at all your succession candidates as a whole.

On an individual basis, watching movement through the levels can highlight candidates that are stagnating and not advancing as rapidly as most. This may indicate a lack of interest on the part of the individual candidate, or flag someone who is looking to move elsewhere.

Drive development resource decisions

No company has unlimited resources, and a tool that helps pinpoint where to spend them is always valuable. The Succession Bench can help inform how you spend your resources and maximize your return on investment. For example, if your leadership pipeline is empty and your urgency to replace key roles is low, it may make sense to invest more in Level C candidates and build bench strength over the long term.

Keeping the Succession Bench current

The value of the Succession Bench is infinite if you use it as an active document. Your succession planning team should review and re-evaluate these charts at least once a year with all the relevant stakeholders. You should also revise it whenever there is any change in the role. In this way, you can ensure you are always prepared to address personnel changes in your company’s critical roles.

You can also use information from the Succession Bench to help build credibility for your succession process among your leadership team. Measure candidates’ movement between readiness levels and the number of ready candidates, and communicate this to senior management at least annually to keep succession top of mind.

The Succession Bench is a simple yet powerful tool that can provide meaningful data to inform your succession process, but it takes a high-level view. The next step is to measure individual candidates’ strengths and opportunities for development, compare them to the Success Profiles that you completed earlier, and plan for development to close the gaps. We’ll discuss assessing succession candidates’ development needs in our next succession planning article.

Download SIGMA’s SIMPLE SUCCESSION TEMPLATE GUIDE for Succession Planning Templates for each stage of your Succession Planning Process


Need Help Getting Started?

SIGMA’s Succession Planning Launch Series offers a simple and cost-effective way to build a robust Succession Planning process and ensure your organization’s leadership is positioned for success and prepared for the unknown.

Contact us to learn how we deliver a full year Succession Implementation Plan for each member of your leadership team in just two half-day workshops.