Using Succession Planning and Data to Fill Unexpected Talent Gaps: Why It’s So Important Right Now


Only 35% of organizations have formalized succession plans. Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer with Visier, offers tips on how companies can use data to mitigate the risks of losing staff.

Whether it is retirement planning or planning for a rainy day, we all know we need to get ahead of change, regardless if it is planned or unplanned. Despite this, according to the Association for Talent DevelopmentOpens a new window , only 35% of organizations have a formalized succession planning process.

If a company doesn’t have strategies in place to address vacancies in critical roles, the organization is at risk when employees take on new roles, go on sick leave or unexpectedly quit – scenarios that are even more likely than usual, due to COVID-19. Companies that are undertaking succession planning, talent reviews, and career planning can mitigate the risks of losing staff in a difficult environment or leaving critical talent gaps.

The Tools for Talent Gap Mitigation

In succession planning, organizations focus on the deliberate development of talent to fill key leadership positions when people in those roles move on, whether internally or to new opportunities outside the company. This creates predictability and reduces risks associated with the departures of critical players, as well as generating employee goodwill by demonstrating there is an opportunity for growth and movement within the company. For these reasons, succession plans emphasize assessing and developing strong pipelines of internal talent and are comprised of two critical components.

Talent reviews involve using skills-based analytics to better understand the realities of organizational talent. This type of review helps companies see where there are gaps, or which skills are leaving the organization. With this knowledge, companies can streamline hiring, look for very specific skill sets, and focus on training. These employees are key resources in a time of such significant change because they have greater versatility.

Career planning, in contrast, is often led by the employee as opposed to being driven by HR and people leaders.

To empower employees’ career mobility, managers need the right tools. Moving beyond simply “conversation-starters,” career planning should incorporate hard data and easy-to-understand visualizations that can help managers and employees alike assess where they are and where they could go, producing a clear roadmap for success.

Most importantly, organizations must determine what they want to focus on to achieve actionable outcomes. It may be necessary to reprioritize work away from a vacant role, but in many cases, the talent is there to fill the gap. Using analytics, HR and people leaders gain the agility to make fast workforce decisions that keep employees safe and the business running through crises and emergencies.

Learn More: 3 Ways Talent Development Technology Can Cultivate Informal LeadersOpens a new window

How Analytics Uncovers the “Hidden Gems” in The Workforce

The reality is that succession-based positions are roles that are hard to fill, but people analytics solutions can connect the data in the entire employee lifecycle and produce data visualizations that quickly show:

  • Which critical positions are empty or at risk of becoming empty?
  • Which employees have the potential to develop into this role
  • Other staff who can act as mentors for those moving to new roles

Traditionally, the process of identifying potential successors mirrored the performance management process. Managers evaluate, and often rank, the suitability of individuals. Just as the industry is underway in a rethink of performance managementOpens a new window , succession planning also requires a rethink to rely more heavily on data than intuition and to increase the frequency and breadth of input into succession.

Crowdsourcing techniques can be used to both identify potential successors and to create better development plans.

Learn More: Why Investing in Your Tech Talent Is Still ImperativeOpens a new window

In times of crisis, it is crucial to evaluate the viability of succession candidates based on risk category, proximity to hotspots, and more. But even in non-pandemic times, bringing data to the discussions of succession planning can help identify and mitigate risks.

How diverse is the successor pool? Are we biased in our selection process in ways we did not intend? What exit or flight risks exist, both in our critical roles and in potential successors?

Turnover contagion – the idea that turnover is often connected – can raise challenges with succession planning as exits are likely to be connected. Do you understand those connections and risks for your organization?

Employ analytics to also surface those individuals who have worked in several different functional areas successfully. Being able to identify people that have crossed the organization laterally, as opposed to horizontally is a big advantage in identifying agile people who are well-positioned to fill certain roles.

Also, leverage organization network analysis (ONA), which can also help find the most active connectors and influencers in the organization. This type of analysis shows which employees others coalesce around and may indicate they will become good leaders. Or it can help uncover who is at greater risk from turnover contagion, and so where to focus your successorship plan.

Once the Succession Plan is Complete, Don’t Stop Refilling the Succession PipelineQuickly shifting resources and priorities requires more agility. Once the critical talent gaps have been filled, it’s time to replenish the pool of potential candidates. HR and people leaders should perform a skill analysis by looking through their skills and certification data and mapping these back to performance. Short-term or temporary assignments will empower these next-in-line employees to showcase different skillsets and prepare them should that next unexpected employee exit occur.

A skills analysis will also help determine where to migrate resources. For example, whether it makes sense to move talent from high-risk areas to lower-risk areas. That way, those individuals remain employed but are placed in different parts of the company based on demand.

Learn More: Using Talent Management Technology to Enhance Soft SkillsOpens a new window

Provide Ongoing Training and Mentorship People analyticsOpens a new window is the key to knowing where employees are now and where the organization needs to go to achieve desired business outcomes. This data provides the insights and information needed to map out training and career growth. And in this case, analytics enables companies to identify other employees with knowledge of the work required in vacant positions. Companies need to consider who held these roles before and connect them with less experienced employees to help them bridge existing skills and knowledge gaps. This makes it easier for employees who are stepping in to get up-to-speed as quickly as possible.

Put the Organization on the Right Path

Having plans already in place to develop talent for key positions in an organization is essential. In times like these, succession planning and career pathing can help avoid the risks associated with talent gaps.

Often succession is managed as a separate program or process. The data about candidates is kept in spreadsheets, and the management of experiences, learning opportunities, and critical assignments is completely separated from the other key planning processes in the organization.

By integrating succession into workforce plans companies gain the ability to see when and where replacements will be required. And most importantly, companies can align the changes and opportunities in plans with the development and growth needs of the most important talent – succession candidates.

Are you implementing people analytics to fill talent gaps? Share your experience with us on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .