With a new year on the horizon, it’s natural to start thinking about potential resolutions for 2020. Unfortunately, more than three-quarters of those resolutions won’t make it past February. While there may not be much harm in not reading as much as you intended or failing to prepare to run a marathon, the stakes are much higher for organizations trying to rethink their succession strategies. Fortunately, by focusing on the right areas and putting in the foundational work, your organization can implement a succession planning strategy that lasts not just into the new year, but into the foreseeable future.

What is Succession Planning?

A succession plan is a strategy focused on identifying and developing employees who can potentially step into leadership roles in the future. When a position is suddenly vacated due to a resignation, retirement, or firing, business processes can be severely disrupted until the position is filled. Unfortunately, selecting a new candidate can be a long and drawn-out process if you have to start from scratch. The purpose of a succession plan is to already have a bench of potential candidates who possess the skills and expertise needed to succeed in the role.

Succession Planning Strategy Tips for the New Year

1. Be Proactive

Don’t wait to start developing and implementing a succession strategy. The best time to develop a plan for handling succession and talent gaps is when there’s no pressure to fill a position. By evaluating existing responsibilities and determining what competencies are needed to be successful in a given role, you can do a better job of assessing candidates for that position in the future. More importantly, being able to gather feedback from someone with experience in that role will help you to develop a more accurate understanding of what skills, qualities, and experiences have to most impact on success.

2. Be Transparent

Employees generally want to know that there is a plan in place to deal with sudden vacancies or changes in personnel. This not only makes it easier to manage these situations, but also provides them with an idea of their own career opportunities. Rolling out training programs to help people build their skills is only part of the development process. A transparent succession plan allows them to see what they might be able to do with those skills in the future. For employees working to put together a professional development plan (PDP), understanding how the organization plans to handle succession situations is critical. They need to know what their future career options are within a company and have a firm understanding of what they need to do to prepare for those roles.

3. Be Thorough

Your next generation of innovative, agile leaders are probably already in your organization, but you may not know who they are. That’s because the high-potential employees who are best suited for leadership roles aren’t always easy to identify. Many companies overemphasize performance and tenure when conceptualizing their succession pipelines, which can sometimes cause them to promote people who excel in their current role, but who may not possess the qualities needed to succeed in a leadership position. While performance is obviously important, your succession planning strategy should expand its focus in the coming year to better identify these high-potential employees. Be on the lookout for people who distinguish themselves and demonstrate willingness to take on a larger role in the future, regardless of their current performance.

4. Be Inventive

A new year is a good time to try something different. As it becomes easier than ever to deliver training and development materials in digital, on-demand formats, organizations should not take a “set and forget” approach to succession planning. Pairing high-potential employees with mentors, allowing people to job shadow in different departments, and providing new collaborative opportunities through cross-functional teams are all good ways to help prepare promising employees for future roles and expose them to new challenges. Once a clearly defined succession pipeline is in place, allowing people to temporarily step into the roles they’re being groomed for can be a good way for them to gain experience while also demonstrating just how prepared they are to fill that position.

5. Be Consistent

Stability and fairness are important for any succession plan. Employees want to know they will be treated fairly when it comes to matters of promotion and development. If an organization routinely abandons its succession planning strategy whenever a position becomes available by hiring external candidates, employees will (rightly) begin to question whether or not they have a viable future there. Once that doubt sets in, disengagement can quickly follow, leading to reduced productivity, poor morale, toxic behavior, and increased turnover. When employees see a succession plan working in practice, however, they are more likely to be engaged in their own development because they believe they will have every opportunity to advance into leadership positions.

Having a healthy succession pipeline in place can help companies weather the talent gaps that can easily disrupt business operations. As 2020 gets underway, many organizations will be reassessing the state of their development programs and succession planning strategies. It’s a perfect opportunity to implement a new approach that emphasizes building a strong pipeline of candidates and creates widespread commitment among employees.