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Continuous Succession Planning: No More Excuses

This is part five of a series of posts based on what I learned at the IAMPHENOM conference.

Early in my career as an HR Professional, I learned about one of the more perplexing dilemmas in corporate life. I worked for a government contractor as a Generalist but most of my time was spent recruiting. I loved my job. Not only was I helping people find their next career opportunity, but I was also strategically aligned with the business and impacting bottom-line results by filling billable roles.  

Then one day I heard that one of the people I recruited, a great hire, was leaving the company after only a year. Then it happened again. It was extremely frustrating, and I needed to figure out what was going on. I dug in and looked at the available data (back then this meant taking the folder of paper exit interview notes home and reading them one at a time). After tabulating the results, I found that the most common reason given for leaving was “Lack of opportunity for advancement.”  This was even more prevalent for above-average performers. We had a top talent leak, and I found the source!

I ran a full analysis of all the voluntary terminations for the last 12 months, created some charts and graphs, and calculated an employee retention index that showed how our higher-performing employees were leaving faster than the average-performing employees.  I used this as a business case to start a program to proactively recruit our own employees to fill jobs. We already did this for senior leadership positions, so why not for all positions?  I called it Continuous Succession Planning and made the pitch.


Everyone loved the data and the business case, and nobody disagreed that we had a problem.  But they all knew it wouldn’t fly. They knew the reason why we lacked “opportunity for advancement.” This was because Hiring Managers did not want to give up their talent. They believed if they let their key people go, we would not be able to replace them quickly and it would negatively impact their business results. And of course, we didn’t have the tools to effectively manage something like this at scale. I have been ranting about it ever since.  

It has been an age-old dilemma that persists today, but we are finally seeing some movement. During the product launch presentations at IAMPHENOM, the demo of the latest advances in the Employee Experience product gave me goosebumps and I thought “If I only had this capability 30 years ago!”  

Here are three compelling technological advances that make Continuous Succession Planning a possibility today:

1. Dynamic Career Pathing – Career Pathing is not new, but it can be hard. One of the inherent challenges is the fact that by the time you get all the roles defined with required skills and competencies with vertical, lateral, and cross-functional matrices, change happens, and it becomes outdated before you even start using it. 

AI algorithm engines can now build these connections dynamically by reading the content of job descriptions, employee profiles, and training/education course descriptions to identify skill gaps and recommend learning programs to close the gaps. This type of dynamic skill matching automatically adjusts as new skills and experiences emerge without having to rewrite the career path matrices.  

2. Gigs & Mentoring – About five years ago during a workshop at Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Awards conference, I was facilitating a discussion on Internal Mobility. One large enterprise was doing some incredible work in terms of collecting employees’ desired career aspirations, offering them learning content to advance, and then proactively notifying them when new jobs were posted in their target area. This all backfired because it created a huge volume of internal applications of candidates who really did not possess practical experience with their newly trained skills. All those rejections generated a swell of employee dissatisfaction.  

By adding a well-designed Gigs and Mentorship program, you can offer employees opportunities to put skills and competencies gained through the LMS into action and give them a real chance to qualify for that next-level position.   

3. Employee Relationship Management (ERM) – HR’s traditional approach for internal movement has been to take our hands off the wheel and publish a policy that says you can self-nominate for an internal job along with a whole host of rules about eligibility to placate the Hiring Managers who don’t ever want to let their people go.

When I saw the demo of Phenom’s new ERM it brought me back to my pitch for Continuous Succession Planning. Finally, a product that allows for proactive recruiting of internal talent and a means to plan for backfilling key resources from within! There is literally a feature that allows you to build a slate of succession candidates for any level of position. This is a game changer for Internal Mobility, and it is time we treat the employee base as our number one source of talent.

Historically, succession planning has been reserved for the top of the organization. You can make the argument that it’s because these roles are the most critical to the business, but I think it has been more about scalability and the lack of technology.  

What I learned at IAMPHENOM is that we no longer have any excuses.

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