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Succession planning is a crucial component of sustained organizational success. Some measure of turnover is inevitable for any company, and the financial costs of not filling those vacancies quickly can be significant. A 2013 Mercer study even estimated that these situations could cost up to 50% more in lost revenue than the salary of the unfilled position itself. Considering that extended vacancies put pressure on other employees throughout the organization, the need for establishing a strong succession management plan is self-evident.

In many cases, though, organizations don’t have a good idea of where to begin. Many of them turn to consulting firms with expertise in succession planning and leadership assessment to help implement a more effective process. There are several benefits to partnering with one of these firms:

1: Proven Assessment Methodology

Assessing employees to identify future candidates for leadership positions is not an easy task. Many organizations make the mistake of conflating assessment with a performance review. The purpose of assessment is to determine whether or not someone possesses the key traits that will contribute to leadership success in the future. While their performance in their current position is a relevant consideration, it should not be the primary focus. Assessment of potential is evaluating people for the future, not just the present.

While many employees may have the potential to step into leadership roles, they aren’t necessarily ready to do so right away. A good assessment program will identify skill and talent areas that need development to better prepare candidates for a future position. Assessment, then, is as much about building leaders as finding them.

None of this is possible, however, without a clearly defined methodology. Consulting firms bring proven, measurable strategies for identifying high-potential candidates. While they can tailor their approach to the specific needs of their clients, consulting firms ground their assessment process in extensive research on what makes for a successful leader. They can clearly show how their approach delivers a positive return on investment (ROI) and can be judged according to specific performance metrics.

2: A Fresh Perspective

As the old saying goes, sometimes a problem just needs another set of eyes. Organizations often struggle to assess their operations and personnel objectively. Whether it’s a company culture that promotes certain behaviors or leadership relying on “gut instincts” to make succession management decisions, there are all sorts of habits that can make it difficult to carry out thorough assessments.

A consulting firm brings with it the benefit of objectivity. Since the firm has no longstanding investments in the people being assessed, it avoids the risk of playing favorites or looking past problematic behaviors that might be tolerated due to performance. As a result, the firm’s assessments provide an honest representation of an organization’s personnel.

This fresh perspective can help to uncover systemic problems that may be getting in the way of effective succession planning. Organizations may discover, for instance, that they keep promoting the wrong candidates because leadership is selecting people based on criteria that have little to do with success in the new position. Identifying these misalignments not only ensures that better candidates are being identified, but also boosts retention as high-potential employees will be able to see a viable future with the company.

3: Establish a Plan for the Future

Organizations cannot build a strong succession pipeline if they don’t know what they want from their leadership positions. Without clear success profiles that describe what is expected of a position and what skills are necessary to be successful in that role, identifying candidates to fill those positions is a scattershot proposition at best. Simply promoting a high-potential employee and expecting them to “figure it out” is a recipe for frustration at best and failure at worst.

Armed with proven assessment methodologies, consulting firms can help their clients to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of positions within the organization. Existing positions can be evaluated to determine what qualities and skills are needed for success, which can then be incorporated into the assessment process to better identify suitable high-potential employees. Employee development strategies can also be put in place to better groom candidates for future positions, which will result in a stronger overall leadership succession planning process.

4: Time Sensitivity

When something isn’t working in an organization, it’s more than just an inconvenience; it could carry significant financial cost. Flawed succession planning processes that consistently produce ineffective leaders can be incredibly damaging to a company, resulting not only in poor financial performance, but also high turnover, reduced engagement, and low morale. Once the decision is made to do something about this problem, the solution needs to be implemented as quickly as possible.

Consulting firms bring the expertise and proven systems necessary to make rapid changes. Rather than spending time and resources to develop their own assessment strategies, organizations can turn to these firms to provide an evaluation of what they’re doing wrong and how they can improve. They can quickly implement the necessary changes to better identify high-potential candidates and get their business back on track.

Consulting firms offer a simple solution for companies that are struggling with succession management. Whether they struggle to assess candidates effectively or don’t have a clear idea of what is needed from their leadership positions, organizations can save time and money by bringing in outside expertise to evaluate their operations. While many companies may be hesitant to look for external solutions, the experience and methodological rigor of a good consulting firm can have a transformative effect on their succession planning process.