December 16, 2020

Don’t Even Think About Hiring Without A Viable, Specific Succession Plan

Written by Mike Sarraille, George Randle and Dr. Josh Cotton

The following is adapted from The Talent War.

In the military, succession planning is so ingrained; it is like muscle memory. It is one of the things the military does better than nearly anyone else. 

On a micro level, in battle, you never know when a leader might be injured, killed, or otherwise incapacitated. If the leader is taken out, there must be a clear, competent second-in-command to step up and take the leader’s place. And if that person is also taken out, there is a third leader, a fourth leader, etc. 

You could have a 200-person unit, and there would be a succession plan down to that final 200th soldier. Can you say the same in your company?

Too many companies don’t think about what might happen if a key leader is promoted or quits until it happens. And by then, it’s too late. There is a leadership vacuum.

To prevent such vacuums, you must hire strategically, filling critical roles with future leaders. But if you don’t know where your leadership gaps are, how can you possibly hire strategically?

So before you even think about hiring, you must first establish a succession plan.

What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a detailed, written plan for who is in line to take over key leadership roles. Succession planning prepares you for the inevitable leadership changes and creates mentorship and development programs to nurture leaders within your organization.

Succession planning involves asking questions like the following:

  • What is the quality of our talent? Where are our gaps?
  • What pillars of talent do we need now, and what building blocks do we need for the future?
  • Where are we missing leadership? Where are we missing number twos and number threes?
  • What do we need in terms of human capital over the next year? The next five years? The next ten years?
  • In what areas are we growing? Which departments are set to expand and when?
  • Where might we experience attrition? Who’s a flight risk?

You must regularly revisit these questions. Succession planning is not something you can do once a year. Your organization is a living, breathing entity that is constantly changing, and so your succession plan must continuously change too.

The 9 Box: A Succession-Planning Tool

You can use many tools for succession planning, but one of our favorites is the 9 Box. The 9 Box is ideal for succession planning because it identifies employees’ current and potential positions.

The 9 Box is a three-by-three grid of nine boxes, with performance along one axis and potential along with the other. The people clustered at the top right of the box are poised for promotion into higher roles. Unless they’re newly hired, the people at the bottom left require more training and leadership development, and in some cases, need to be let go.

Everyone in a leadership role should complete the 9 Box, placing their direct reports where appropriate. If they don’t have anyone in the top right corner, it indicates a significant leadership gap. If that leader moved out of their position for any reason, there would be no one to take their place.

The 9 Box gives you a clear picture of who is in line for succession and how much professional development they need to advance. People with high performance and high potential are ready for advancement immediately. High performers with moderate potential are typically prepared for a higher role within six months, and intermediate performers with high potential usually need six to eighteen months. 

The 9 Box also identifies flight risks. If you have many top performers crammed into the top right blocks and only a couple of promotions scheduled for the next year, then you know who may grow dissatisfied and begin looking for work elsewhere. Armed with that knowledge, you can either prepare for them to leave or take action to ensure they stay.

You should complete 9 Boxes regularly because people are constantly changing. An employee who once showed high leadership potential may turn out to be a poor fit, and one who showed lower leadership potential may grow and become an exceptional leader. 

What’s Your Succession Plan?

Most companies might have a general idea of their number two and three, but there is no detailed, written plan. 

If your organization does not have a clear succession plan for all its essential functions, you are saying that it’s okay to have blind spots, that it’s okay not to know your weaknesses or gaps. Without knowing your gaps, a single leader leaving could be hugely detrimental. You are setting yourself up for failure. 

Instead, you can hire more effectively through diligent succession planning, ensuring you have key leaders in all the right spots, with others ready to step up when needed. 

For more advice on succession planning and hiring, you can find The Talent War on Amazon.

Founder, Managing Partner & CEO | Website | + posts

Mike Sarraille is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and a former enlisted Recon Marine and Scout-Sniper. A graduate of the University of Texas McCombs Business School, he is the founder and CEO of Talent War Group, a specialized executive search firm, and talent advisory that finds high-performing business leaders for senior, executive, or other critical leadership positions. He is co-author of ‘The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent’ and a columnist for Men’s Journal and Men’s Fitness under ‘The Everyday Warrior’ column. He founded and served as a board of directors for the VETTED Foundation, a cutting-edge executive-level transition program.

Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps and later became a Recon Marine and also served as a scout sniper. He was selected for a Marine officer program, but after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University, he sought a commission in the Navy to try out for the SEAL Teams.  He is also a recognized keynote speaker and subject matter expert in leadership development, talent acquisition, and talent management.

Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | Website | + posts

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Website | + posts

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies, and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.

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