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Grooming top-performing employees as future leaders

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Human resource professionals are faced with the growing challenge of developing pipelines to ensure there is enough talent entering the organization as well as grooming employees from within to meet future needs.

A critical part of talent pipelines includes having an understanding and development of succession planning and management, or SP&M.

According to William J. Rothwell of Penn State University, SP&M is “the effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department or work group by making provisions for the development, replacement and strategic application of key personnel over time.”

SP&M is so much more than just replacement planning, though they do overlap. If you polled most managers and asked them about succession planning, they would probably say something about choosing a replacement for themselves or having a plan in place to hire a competent leader when they retire.

SP&M ensures that leadership will continue by growing talent from within through development of high-potential employees. This will ensure leadership continues if current leaders leave.

This is important because no one works forever. Leaders retire and find new jobs. These are things we can anticipate.


SP&M also is vitally important because of the things we cannot foresee, such as health issues, family emergencies, accidents and sudden deaths.

It is one thing to prepare for an anticipated retirement. It’s entirely different to receive a call early in the morning saying a vital senior leader or knowledge expert is no longer available.

Prepare now to ensure less disruption down the road.


These circumstances often are things that can affect a business suddenly, without warning.

Having a strong plan in place to address these issues short- and long term is vitally important to the future of your business.

Developing a clear SP&M plan requires long-term buy-in from organizational leaders and executives.

This is a long-term commitment to human resource development in your organization. Stopping part-way through will ensure failure and can lead to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement.


The first step is to ensure you have a mechanism in place that accurately measures the skills and competencies of your workforce.

Do your employees’ job descriptions accurately reflect what work they do on a day-to-day basis?

Do they accurately measure what skills are required to effectively perform the job?

If not, be sure they do.


It is also important that employee evaluations accurately measure and provide feedback on these skills you have identified.

Different departments, divisions or silos may have vastly different evaluations. The competencies required for a customer service representative vary greatly than those of a project manager or production supervisor and should reflect that.

Look at the overall strategic goals of the organization and make sure those are reflected in the job descriptions and employee evaluations, as well.


The next step includes clarifying the type of work needed to be done in the organization’s future.

How will changes in the organization affect these positions? Quantify how these changes will affect competencies required for these positions.

Next, address any gaps in job skills and competencies. Compare that to what they will look like in the future and determine if employee development is required.

Closing those knowledge gaps can be done in a number of ways, including on-the-job training, outside schooling, mentoring and job shadowing.


After evaluating staff, develop a way to objectively measure the highest performers. They are the future of your organization and the employees that are most promotable.

It may take a bit of effort but should be documented and be able to be replicated.

Lastly, you should plan for development activities involving these employees. Identify the gaps between the skills they have and determine what skills are required for future positions.

Identify developmental activities to address these gaps. Again, this can include specialized training segments, mentoring, job shadowing or a combination.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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