Identifying Critical Roles Within Your Organization
This article is a part of our series on SIGMA’s six-step succession planning process.
They say the only constant is change, and this is certainly true of business leadership. Any organization can count on changes in personnel in key roles at some point, whether due to retirement, natural career progression, or a variety of other reasons. A sudden vacancy in a critical position cannot only leave an organization scrambling to fill in, but it may also leave a significant gap in knowledge and experience that takes time to rebuild.
Many companies are not prepared for the departure of key personnel: a Stanford University report found that 33% of companies don’t have successors ready to fill key C-suite positions.[i] And respondents to a KPMG global survey reported insufficient pipeline of future leaders and lack of internal candidates for critical roles as their top two talent management concerns.[ii] That’s why it’s so important to put succession management strategies in place ahead of time and minimize the effect these inevitable changes have on business operations.
How Do You Start a Succession Plan?
Succession planning is a process to identify the next generation of leaders in your organization who have the potential to fill key roles when the current personnel move on. This provides your company with a roadmap to ensure continuity of your operations when changes occur. And it allows time to develop the future leaders’ knowledge and skills, so they are prepared when the time comes to step into their new roles.
The first step in creating a succession plan is to identify which key positions you should include in the plan. Essentially, you need to identify which roles have the greatest impact on your company’s performance, and would also be the most difficult to replace.[iii] Selecting the right positions to focus on is important to the successful outcome of your plan.
Our succession planning template available in this free download will walk you through what is required at each stage of the succession process, along with some really helpful tips to get you started. Inside you’ll find functional templates and tools to help you along every stage of your succession planning process, including measuring the maturity of your current process, determining where to focus limited resources, defining what is required for success at each role, identifying those succession candidates, building and measuring your talent bench, documenting development needs, tracking progress and identifying those really important development opportunities, and finally, measuring and communicating the success of your process which we think is really the most important part of the processes, is closing that loop. Hopefully this template helps you develop and get started on your succession planning process.
If you need help getting started, take a moment to check out our “Succession Planning Launch Series” which offers a simple and cost-effective way to build a robust process and ensure your organization’s leadership is positioned for success and prepared for the unknown. Contact us to learn more about our Succession Planning Launch Series that delivers a custom succession plan in just 30 days, while requiring less than eight hours, essentially two half-day sessions, from your leadership team.
How to Identify Critical Positions for Succession Planning?
So, how do you decide which roles are critical for succession planning? When assisting clients with developing their succession plans, SIGMA uses our Critical Role Identification Questionnaire to help management teams focus their planning efforts.
The questionnaire suggests four relevant identification criteria to use in evaluating which positions are critical.
- Impact to business operations: How would day-to-day operations or business revenue be affected if this role was suddenly vacant?
- Availability of external candidates: Would it be difficult to find qualified external hires to replace this position?
- Internal bench strength: Are there qualified internal candidates who could step into this role today?
- Unique skill set or knowledge base: Does this role require skills or knowledge that would be difficult to replace, or demand specific experience in your company or industry?
In addition, you may want to add other critical role identification criteria to address your company’s specific needs or situation. For example, can you foresee an urgent need to replace a particular position, such as one where the incumbent will retire soon? Is there a role with a high risk of turnover, such as a very stressful position, one that’s in high demand externally, or is not competitively compensated? Critical roles for succession planning extend beyond leadership and managment roles and include positions related to customer support, sales and production. All members of your organization play an important role in the success of your business. The Critical Role Identification Questionnaire makes sure that there is no gaps left unfilled in your organizations internal talent pool.
How To Use The Critical Role Identification Questionnaire for Succession Planning
Use the Critical Role Identification Questionnaire to list all the roles in your company that the management team feels are most important to internal operations. While your C-suite leaders and senior managers may jump immediately to mind, it’s important to take an enterprise-wide approach and look for lynchpin roles at other levels as well. It’s better to be exhaustive in this step and use the evaluation process to reduce the list to just the most key positions.
The management team should then evaluate all the listed positions against the criteria for critical position identification on the form. It’s important to keep the position description in mind during your evaluation. Try not to focus only on the person currently in the role. Strong leaders often take on additional responsibilities outside their role, but you want to base your evaluation on the criticality of the core functions.
By adding up the totals from all questionnaires, you’ll be able to develop a shortlist of key positions to consider for your succession plan. The management team should then take the time to discuss each of the criteria for all the shortlisted roles to pare the list down to the top role or roles to focus on initially.
Smaller companies should select one key position to concentrate on to begin their succession plan; larger companies may choose to move ahead with up to five positions. Starting small will make the succession planning process easier to manage and improve your likelihood of creating a successful plan. It will give you the chance to learn and gain insights, and enable you to build momentum as you move forward to expand the scope of your succession plan.
Next Step: Create Success Profiles
If you’ve finished identifying your organization’s critical roles, you’re ready to draft success profiles. Check out Step 2 of SIGMA’s six-step succession planning process below.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you identify critical talents?
Critical talents are the skills that map onto the needs of your organization’s high impact, critical positions. You can identify critical talents by considering the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for success in each critical position. When compiling talents for each critical position make sure to survey not only senior management but the current incumbent, direct reports, and anyone who frequently interacts with or who depends on the critical position to carry out their job effectively. All of these contacts are rich sources of useful information. [/vc_toggle]
How to identify employees for succession planning?
Once you have a good understanding of the most important skills for your critical roles, you can begin identifying which employees might be consider candidates for succession positions. Begin by using validated assessments to measure the knowledge, skills, and abilities of your employees. Then, you can compare their strengths against the requirements for the role. Any complete succession plan will plan for the development of top candidates through training programs, coaching, and mentorship. A robust assessment and development process will provide you with a list of potential successors for critical roles and help build your internal talent pipeline.[/vc_toggle]
[i] 2014 Report on Senior Executive Succession Planning and Talent Development. Institute of Executive Development and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University.