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Succession Planning and Maximizing Potential—Simplified

Learn what succession planning really is and how we can truly maximize the potential of our people as we navigate the new world of work.

At SHL, we are advocates for human potential. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people have opportunities to play on their strengths and interests every day. As an Organizational Psychologist, I am absolutely passionate about helping other people to grow, achieve their potential, and overcome the barriers facing them to create a better life. This is the reason I get up every day, and it is during these conversations that our passion as Organizational Psychologists comes alive.

Among the topics, we often talk about in my line of work is succession planning. In this article, I will discuss what succession planning really is and how we can maximize the potential of our people.

Why is succession planning important?

Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing potential future leaders and individuals to fill business-critical roles. Succession planning is important for organizations and individuals to ensure that people reach their potential in their careers and lives.

Organizations have a responsibility to their workforce to create this environment for their people to thrive. However, according to research by Gallup, currently, only 13% of employees worldwide enjoy their work and make a full effort in their work.

This is a problem that I think organizations and leaders overlook every day. Are you aware of the impact of this on the productivity of your team? This is evidence that 87% of people are not reaching their potential at work, most likely because the work that they do does not utilize their genuine strengths and interests. Leaders can be certain that members of their team are not using a significant proportion of their natural skills and competence that could transform a problem that both the leader and the organization are facing into a resolved solution.

Working hard in an area of disinterest creates enormous stress for people every day, which results in many physical symptoms, for example, migraines, back pain, and poor sleep. This often leads to burnout. On the contrary, working hard in an area that plays on the strengths, skills, and interests is what is called passion.

So what does this mean for succession planning?

Imagine your entire team and/or workforce found their work genuinely fulfilling and were excited to come to work every day. How would their productivity change? How would you change as a leader? What would work feel like for you?

Leaders have a responsibility to truly understand the capabilities, strengths, and potential of their people in order to help them find a role that will make them come alive. It is people and talent that drive the competitive edge of organizations and businesses across industries. With successful employee engagement, companies will see benefits such as:

  • Higher retention rates
  • Increased levels of productivity
  • Creative innovations
  • Improved profitability
  • Greater engagement in the company culture

According to research by Gallup, currently, only 13% of employees worldwide enjoy their work and make a full effort in their work.

Key things to consider when using succession planning to maximize the potential of your workforce

Capture the motivations, personality, and cognitive abilities of your employees. Empower everyone to have honest and open conversations with their line manager to explore how they really feel about their work. Also request people to get 360 feedback, reflect on their own performance and potential, and request feedback from peers about when they really shine at work. The next step is to align all of this talent data to the needs of the business, enabling the mobility of individuals to align roles with the right people, at the right time. 

What you need to make your succession planning successful

  1. Regular honest feedback sessions

    You need to have a feedback and 1-1s/appraisal system where individuals have the permission to speak their truth, to speak authentically about what they enjoy and what they do not enjoy, and to explore their untapped potential through 360 feedback, and personality, motivation, and ability psychometric solutions.

  2. Accurate predictive tools

    It is important to implement the tools and solutions that will reveal the untapped potential of the people you work with. This is particularly important for people early on in their careers—their lack of experience can distract from their true leadership potential and how quickly they will be able to rise through the ranks. Another way to describe this is the prediction of potential.

  3. A roadmap of roles vs skills that focuses on future scenarios

    In succession planning, organizations typically obtain a map of critical roles and a clear outline of what combination of competencies, preferences, and motivations enables people to excel in those roles. This creates a clear map of the roles and the skills required for these roles, enabling the matching of future leaders to critical or soon-to-be-vacant positions. This helps to empower talent to develop into these positions.

    SHL advises companies to focus succession planning on tomorrow’s needs. Traditional succession planning processes rarely consider the shifting context leaders will face. Instead of assuming stability in the operating environment, assume business priorities will always evolve, and adjust your planning accordingly. Identify the critical competencies that support your company’s strategic future. SHL has specific solutions that can deliver this.

  4. A clear succession process

    While planning career pathways, both leaders and employees have an opportunity to plan what direction the company and its people are heading towards. Strong communication drives employee engagement and boosts morale. Succession planning process steps include mentoring, shadowing, and job rotation to foster a culture of continuous learning and development.

    Organizations with a successful succession plan know to communicate with employees regularly about their progress and process. The goal is to establish a process of honest, transparent, and inclusive career planning where individuals are empowered to own their careers and clearly see the future roles that they aspire to in the organization that will leverage their natural talents, play on their interests, and ultimately enable them to become an unstoppable force.


Succession planning is important for organizations and individuals to ensure that people reach their potential in their careers and lives. It is also important for happiness and life satisfaction. As Millennials and Gen Z establish a stronghold in organizations, workplaces are increasingly becoming the means through which people live their purpose and find fulfillment in their lives. This young professional workforce expects more from life and they will not stick around in companies that do not take an authentic interest in their natural strengths and talents. A robust development and succession plan is critical for companies to harness the potential of their people and fundamentally stay competitive and thrive in the modern world.

Thanks for reading, Sophia.

If you are interested in discussing these thoughts further, feel free to reach out to us and check out our solutions for succession planning.

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Sophia Nicholls

Sophia is an Organizational Psychologist and a Senior Consultant at SHL. She holds a First Class master’s degree in organizational psychology and has worked as a consultant developing the potential of people and talent for 6 years. She is also an Executive and Leadership Coach completing a qualification with the Institute of Leadership and Management. She is passionate about talent development because she believes that people are an organization's greatest asset.

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