Succession Planning and Building Your Leadership Pipeline

One of the best ways to fill critical leadership roles in your department is to cultivate them from within, making the development of a strong succession plan and effective leadership pipeline one of the best tools for recruiting new leaders. Traditionally used in the realm of business, succession planning is now a common practice within institutions of higher education.

An effective succession plan helps identify and groom high potential managers for advancement into key, senior positions, while a leadership pipeline cultivates a pool of quality leaders with diverse management expertise, and provides them with opportunities for professional growth. This strengthens your institutional department from within through increased departmental performance, employee satisfaction and retention, as well as creating an infrastructure for leadership continuity through candidates who can readily fill critical positions. The shared benefits of an effective succession plan are based on a simple idea: by investing in the people that make up your organization, you are investing in the organization’s ongoing success.

The first step in developing a strong succession plan is by identifying key senior positions that are essential to your department’s long term success. Structure your succession planning around these positions, and keep their leadership pipelines strong by regularly identifying high potential candidates. There should be a comprehensive system in place to identify candidates – a system which defines the requisite leadership competencies and standards, and provides measureable performance indicators.

Cultivating the pipeline through leadership development is the most important component to a successful succession plan, and goes beyond leadership training to include mentoring, grooming through real world assignments and work experiences, as well as an evaluation system that measures progress and provides feedback. By giving promising leaders assignments which challenge them, you empower them to assume risks and develop new skills, while also providing an effective evaluation system that allows them to learn from mistakes and grow through their achievements.

In addition to measuring progress on an individual level, senior officials should regularly measure the progress of a department’s succession plan and pipeline. Harvard Business Review offers some useful metrics to consider when doing this, including:

• how many important positions have been filled with internal candidates
• how many succession plans have two or more “ready now” candidates, and
• how many of the same employees are “ready now” candidates on more than three different succession plans?

Succession management is an ongoing process that requires extra time and due diligence, but is an investment that yields high returns for both managers and employees. Do you have experience developing a leadership pipeline in your department? Please share your tips and insights in our comments section!

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Kendra Dane

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

Kendra Dane earned her BA from Mundelein College (now part of Loyola University) and her MS from National Louis University. During a career in higher education that spans over 30 years, Kendra has most recently served as assistant dean and director of admissions at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prior to moving to St. Paul, she served as executive director of admissions and marketing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), as well as the executive director of enrollment services at SAIC. Kendra began her career in higher education at National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois, where she served as an associate vice president for financial aid for many years. Kendra has been active in the Illinois Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (ILASFAA), held leadership positions in Midwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA), and served in a volunteer capacity as a financial aid trainer with the U.S. Department of Education.