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How succession planning can improve employee retention


The top reason employees stay with a company is they feel challenged by their work, according to an Aberdeen report. Thirty-four percent reported that they are sticking with their current employer because they foresee an opportunity to be part of the future growth of the company.

When you create a succession plan that showcases growth opportunities and challenges your employees to do more, they have a more positive outlook on their future at your company. And as a result, they’re more likely to stick around long-term.

It sounds great in theory, but how can you build a company-wide succession plan that really supports retention?

Leadership succession planning + retention

Having a succession plan for key leadership positions (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.) at your company helps ensure your business can carry on even if there’s an unexpected loss at the top of your organization.

The best succession plans put a heavy emphasis on the development of new leaders, something that should make the employees who are selected as replacements feel valued and challenged.

The individuals who are being groomed for top roles should most certainly know they’re part of the plan. But, you shouldn’t just tell your employee, “You’re in line to be the next CFO.” You need to ask.

Prior to making this decision, you should have asked that employee:

  • What are your career goals?
  • What do you want to achieve?

From here, you can decide whether your succession plan matches his or her aspirations. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to find someone else.

You shouldn’t try to convince employees to take jobs they don’t want. If they’re not happy, it’s not likely something they’ll stick with long-term.

But when there is alignment, you’re in the sweet spot for challenging and motivating them to stay on board and grow with your company.

When a top leader leaves, so does a tremendous amount of intellectual property and important nuances that cannot be written down. An ongoing and developmental succession plan is critical to everyone’s success.

The current leadership team members should actively make recommendations for how to prepare their successors. They should indicate where their replacements may need help the most. They should also spend time mentoring these employees and advising them on the unique challenges they’ll face. Leaders should include their successors in routine projects to help them understand the decision-making process.

It’s also important for the current leadership team to advise their leaders-in-training on how to function well within your unique company culture.

Staff-wide succession planning + retention

The majority of your staff may not be senior leaders, but every employee needs to be challenged and see opportunities for growth. Preparing for vacancies at the middle and lower levels of your business, including positions like sales, administrative, technical and production, can help your entire company stay committed and future-minded.

To make this part of your succession plan most effective, you must actively monitor and develop your employees’ talents and skills. Depending on the size of your company, this can quickly become a large undertaking. But with the right succession planning processes and tools, you’ll find it much easier to motivate and promote from within.

Monitor talents and skills

Chances are your personnel files already contain a wealth of information documenting your employees’ talents and skills, such as:

  • Resume
  • Continuing education history
  • Performance appraisals
  • Projects completed

Having a system (like an interactive organizational chart) to capture and archive your employees’ information will make succession planning decisions easier. At the same time, your employees will feel more valued if it’s clear that you’re taking note of their strengths.

Develop talent and skills

It’s important for your succession plan to include career tracks for your mid- and entry-level employees. Sometimes called career paths, ladders or development plans, career tracks show employees that you care about their career goals and want to help them identify development opportunities within your company. This can boost their motivation and increase retention.

This would typically involve having an ongoing or at least a once-a-year talk with employees about their career aspirations. Again, you should ask the participants, what are your goals? What do you want to do? If the responses no longer align with the succession plan, then the leadership team should go to the next-in-line successor, unless the reasons for misalignment can be resolved and the plan can be continued.

Choose a path

In general, there tend to be two basic career tracks within an organization – a management track and a professional track. You’ll be able to identify which track is best for your employees based on the career goal discussions you’ve had.

The management track prepares employees to move into supervisory positions. Typically, career tracks for these employees are more focused on behavioral development, such as completing leadership training or taking the lead on a project team.

The professional track is for employees who want to become highly proficient in a skill-based role (e.g., moving from junior designer to senior designer to lead designer). Their career development plans are usually more project-based. Some goals for employees on the professional track could be to pursue an educational opportunity or acquire proficiency in a related technology.

Of course, for succession planning and career tracks to truly aid retention there must be follow-through – you must offer employees a way to advance, whether it’s with additional responsibilities or a promotion. Otherwise, they will think you’re just making empty promises. They’ll stop believing there is real opportunity for growth, which could lead to turnover.

In reality, your employees’ growth is crucial to your company’s success. Read our free guide, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business, to learn how to align your people with your company’s goals so your business has a clear-cut path to success.