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Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line.

However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board.  Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process.

The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference?  Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips?

It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization.  And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.)

Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down)

This “bottom-up” approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around:

  • Career history
  • Career preferences
  • Mobility preferences
  • Professional and special skills
  • Education achieved
  • Competency ratings
  • Performance scores
  • Goal achievement
  • Training and certifications
  • Etc.

In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions.

For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands.  The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a “Readiness Gap” – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level?  And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps.  Faster development, faster mobility.

Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels.  I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that “water finds its level” – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally.

Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process.  They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings.  The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level.

A Two-Way Street

Employee-driven career management is just one tool.  The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable.  But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital.

For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.