Keeping Top Talent-Succession Planning

Despite the unemployment statistics there is actually a war for top talent happening now, and it will be even more obvious as the economy improves. It affects a company's succession plans-developing internal people to take over leadership positions as senior leaders transition into other roles or retire.

Developing your star performers is a bit of a Catch-22. As high achievers, they will likely have offers to move into other roles. To prevent them from jumping ship, it's important that your star performers know you want to keep them and are committed to their development. Retaining top talent is important for the long-term health of both your department and organization.

How ready is your company to fill key positions in the organization with top performers already in your development pipeline? The top two concerns of human resource officers, according to an annual survey done by the HR Policy Association, are executive development and succession and talent management. Executive development and succession, in fact, were mentioned most frequently as top concerns of human resource officers in the last four annual surveys.

Smart companies mine their talent pool and deepen the engagement of existing stars, allowing a new group of high-performers to grow from within the organization. This is succession planning-when an organization intentionally considers how its people will be developed for key future roles. You might wonder why companies focus so much on internal development, rather than hiring seasoned, experienced leaders from the outside? Because those outsiders lack in-depth knowledge of the company's culture, knowledge required to drive strategic initiatives forward.

High-potential employees can start a conversation about their development for future roles with the question: "I'm committed to growth both in my current role and for the future; thus I'd like to discuss where am I on the succession plan." If one of your employees asks that, it's a sign of her ambition and awareness. Once that conversation has begun, share with your employee her position in the line-up for that new role. It may be that there are three people who have been identified as a potentially good fit for the role your star performer has her eye on. It's best not to be specific about the other names on the list; and do not make guarantees about succession paths until promotion time.

You may want to confirm with your star performers that they are, indeed, in the succession plan, only you can't share the line-up because it hasn't been determined yet. If you are coaching a star at the mid-level in your organization and know he is lower on the list, or your organization is flat and there is little growth potential, it might be wise to suggest your star performer move into other organizations. It's harder to move to another company the further up you are in a company's hierarchy, so if you are the star performer, you don't want to wait too long. However, if suggesting that would be a conflict of interest for you as a manager, suggest the star performer find a mentor who isn't in the company. That mentor would be able to help your star explore other options.

That is a meaningful conversation!