“Strategic planning is worthless, unless there is first a strategic vision”

— John Naisbitt, New York Times bestselling author and public speaker

Succession planning is strategic planning. In fact, succession planning is one of the most important strategic planning processes your organization can undertake. Although your succession plan is a strategic plan in-and-of-itself, it must also be aligned with your organization’s overall strategic plan as John Naisbitt called it, “a strategic vision.” This vision includes your organization’s mission, vision, and values statements, as well as the goals your organization has set in the short, medium, and long term. In this blog we will discuss how you can align your succession plan with your strategic plan to optimize progress and achieve the best results for both.

Step 1: Know Your Strategy

Before you can align your succession planning with your strategic plan, you need to have a strategic plan and know what it is. In our work with clients, we have discovered that approximately 40% of business leaders rarely implement strategic plans. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 don’t create plans at all!  Regardless of industry or size, all organizations should be making strategic plans that include a vision and an objective for where they want their organization, department, or team to go. If the plan is overly simple, take some time to flesh it out. If you are the leader, think about where the organization, your department, and your team need to be in five, 10, and 20 years. Rally other leaders and draft a mission, vision, and values statement. These will become guiding principles for you to fall back on when establishing your succession planning process.

Step 2: Align Your Succession Plan with Your Strategic Plan

At SIGMA, we use a six-step succession planning process to ensure that every succession plan we make is standardized and robust. This makes plans easier to implement and scale — not to mention more successful as a result. You can use this six-step succession planning process to build a succession plan from scratch.

SigmaSuccession Simple Succession Process

At each step along the way there are things you can do to align your succession plan with your organization’s strategic plan as a whole:

  1. When identifying critical roles, think about which roles are particularly important for achieving strategic goals. This may mean considering positions that are not currently very important but might become more important in the future. Think of the progress you are trying to make, how the business may change as a result, and what roles will become more crucial to the operations of the business. These roles should be included in your succession plan.

  2. When building success profiles, spend careful time thinking about the leadership competencies you select. A success profile is a tool that helps to ensure an ideal fit between an employee and the job they perform. Success profiles include leadership competencies — competencies that are important for all leaders to possess to be successful in your organization. Select these competencies based on what capabilities will be needed to implement your strategic plan. For example, if your strategic plan includes ambitious goals around gaining market share, you may want to include competencies like “Achievement and Motivation,” “Ambition,” and “Productivity.” If your strategic plan includes positioning your organization as a high-quality service provider, you may want to include “Emphasizing Excellence” and “Thoroughness” in your list. For a complete list of all 50 leadership competencies we use, check out SIGMA’s Leadership Competency Framework.

  3. When nominating succession candidates, look for character and commitment in addition to competence. Pay close attention to whether or not employees are dedicated to the organization’s strategic plan. Find those who are passionate about the mission and vision and include them in your succession plan even if they have a lot of room for growth. These individuals may not be ready to step into critical roles anytime soon, but they will be valuable team players and advocates for the organization’s mission and vision.

  4. When assessing development needs, be sure to evaluate your candidate’s leadership competencies using a validated assessment like SIGMA’s Leadership Skills Profile — Revised (LSP-R). Use the results of the assessment to review the aggregate strengths and development opportunities of the organization. Does the company have the right leadership skills within the team to enact strategic goals? Can they focus on common development opportunities not only to increase the skills of candidates, but also to help them reach other goals?

  5. When developing talent, be intentional about including opportunities for your employees to work towards the mission and vision and apply your organizational values. This will help foster a sense of ownership over strategic goals, as well as pride in the mission and vision. Having this ownership and pride in your future leaders is a critical component of ensuring the strategic plan continues to be carried forward without you.

  6. Finally, when measuring progress, use metrics that reflect your company’s strategic goals. The success of your plan will depend heavily on the measures you focus your attention on. Choose metrics that reflect the goals of your succession plan and are aligned with the goals of your strategic plan. For example, consider the company whose strategic plan includes positioning themselves as a high-quality service provider. This organization may choose to measure each succession candidate’s personal commitment to quality, as well as how others would rate the quality (excellence, thoroughness, etc.) of their work. This would ensure that the succession plan remains aligned with the strategic plan by developing future leaders who have a personal commitment to quality, and model quality performance in their own work.

Step 3: Monitor and Adjust as Needed

The last step in SIGMA’s six-step succession planning process is to measure progress. Measuring progress is an important step for all strategic plans, not just succession planning. More than 1 in 5 leaders we speak with tell us that the biggest challenge they face when trying to follow through on strategic plans is a lack of long-term commitment. When you measure progress, you have a built-in mechanism for accountability to help mitigate this challenge. This helps organizations maintain momentum, recognize when things are heading off-track, and adjust the plan as needed. Measuring progress can also be incredibly motivating, because it demonstrates to employees that their efforts are paying off. Therefore, the last step in aligning your succession plan with your strategic plan is to make sure you are also monitoring progress on your overall strategic plan. Think of which metrics would be indicators of success, other than those included in your succession plan. What would you need to know in order to be confident that your organization is on-track to achieve its overall strategic goals? Consider both quantitative and qualitative measures. For example, you could:

  • Hold an annual or bi-annual meeting with each of your senior managers to ask for their input on the organization’s progress towards overall strategic goals. Take notes and look for trends.

  • Send an annual or bi-annual survey to all employees asking them to rate the organization’s success at setting and accomplishing strategic goals.  Questions like these can be filled out on a 5-point scale, using a simple online feedback form or questionnaire.  i.e., “In the past year, how successful do you feel the organization has been at setting strategic goals” 1 = not successful at all, 2 = mostly unsuccessful, 3 = somewhat successful, 4 = mostly successful, 5 = very successful. Multiple choice questions can be followed by an optional short-answer space for further clarification or ideas.
Multiple Choice Graph
  • Create a list of outcomes that will signal when your goals have been accomplished; if the goal is a medium- or long-term strategic goal, you may want to break it down into intermediary deliverables so that you can track progress along the way.

  • Select a set of quantitative metrics you can track regularly to monitor progress, such as turnover rate or percentage of critical roles filled internally.

No matter how you choose to measure progress on your strategic goals, the important thing is that you do so regularly. Try measuring progress every six months, then set aside time with your leaders to review results and adjust your strategic plan and your succession plan as needed. Make sure the two remain aligned and communicate your progress to stakeholders. Collectively, these steps should help you create strong succession plans and strategic plans and align the two with one another.

Ready to Get Started?

Would you like to know more about SIGMA’s succession planning services? Talk to one of our experts today! Glen Harrison oversees SIGMA’s succession planning consultants and manages our sales and marketing. Glen helps leaders and HR professionals enhance their understanding of how SIGMA’s products and services can be used to realize potential within their organizations. Contact Glen today to learn how SIGMA can help your organization create a customized and effective succession plan.

Talk to an Expert

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If you’re interested in learning more about SIGMA’s succession planning services, Glen is the guy for you. He knows our material inside and out, and can tell you first-hand stories of the work we’ve done with our clients. Glen doesn’t do sales – he does solutions. That might mean answering your questions, giving you our best tips and tricks, or pointing you to our free resources. Send him an email or give him a call! He’d love to chat with you.

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