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When it comes to talent, it’s all about the pipeline. That is, keeping it pulsing along with the best possible employee bench strength to fill critical positions as business conditions change, new products are launched, etc. To get there takes a proactive and intelligence-driven internal succession planning strategy, though for many employers this is easier said than done.

In fact, the challenge of selecting and developing future managers is keeping many HR leaders and business line executives up at night. A study by the Corporate Leadership Council found that 72 percent of companies surveyed predict they'll have an increasing number of leadership vacancies over the next three to five years. At the same time, 76 percent are "less than confident" in their abilities to adequately fill these positions.

That is the harsh reality. High unemployment rates notwithstanding, top talent can still be very scarce, so looking inward and developing a smart succession management process is table stakes in today’s talent challenge. It all comes down to identifying top performers and closing existing knowledge gaps to create a high-performance culture.

One step in the right direction that I recently blogged about is utilizing today’s talent management software solutions and creating processes to expand your succession planning model throughout organizational ranks, one that both sides of the equation can embrace. Employers who can proactively engage the workforce in career management and development create a clear win-win. For employees, added career development opportunities ensure that people are moving up, not out.

For example, when workforce management services firm Kelly Services launched self-service career management tools to its global employee base, the company’s HR executives were pleasantly surprised by the level of participation. Creation of career profiles was voluntary, but the tools had a 72 percent participation rate in its initial launch. Kelly’s management saw this as a clear indicator of the interest their people have in not only managing their careers, but also in other opportunities within the company. 

Why critical roles and competencies matter

It is clear that a workforce needs to be aligned with the overall business strategy and business objective achievement. Yet, you would be amazed at how many organizations lack awareness of the critical roles and key competencies that drive business success.

Simply defined, critical roles are the positions that an organization relies on most to meet its key business objectives. Competencies are the knowledge, behavior and skills that correlate with organizational success and performance. For example, customer satisfaction may be a leading business driver in a retail organization, and as a result, key competencies may include customer responsiveness, relationship building, account management experience and other areas.

Naturally, critical roles and competencies are tightly interrelated. A business can define its critical roles with job profiles, then use competencies to measure success and replicate the qualities of a successful employee in others throughout the workforce.

External factors

Organizations certainly face a number of external factors that make it difficult to acquire and retain top talent. For example, as Baby Boomers retire, Generations X and Y don’t have the sheer numbers or job experience to fill the gaps.  Also, the ongoing “doing more with less” business mantra has left companies with the burden of developing key talent now to prevent a mass exodus of top performing employees in the next 12 to 24 months.

Not to pile on, but there also is a global shortage of technical and leadership skills in such areas as engineering, accounting, skilled trades and sales and executive/management functions, which has the potential to slow the economic engine. 

With these hurdles, organizations need to get the succession planning ball rolling. Helping talent flourish within the organization takes time; it also requires a razor-sharp focus. Having a solid system in place to identify and develop top talent and critical roles allows an organization to reap the rewards of a healthy, flowing talent-laden pipeline.

To read more about my thoughts on using career management technology solutions to expand succession planning throughout organizational ranks and foster career mobility, check out my blog post, “A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down.”

To read more about succession management and career management best practices, download the white paper, “Two Sides of the Same Coin: Using Succession Management and Career Development to Improve Talent Mobility.”