It wasn’t long after my husband and I moved to Tennessee that we realized our beloved Quarter Horses weren’t going to cut it. All our friends rode gaited horses and when we would travel together their horses would leave us in the dust – literally. So, one weekend while at Big South Fork we bought two gaited Spotted Saddle Horse mares. And for the next year we rode them almost non-stop. If you know anything about horses, you know the best training is a wet saddle blanket.

Little did we know at the time that our mares were pregnant – unbeknownst to us, our equine succession plan was underway!

Last month Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation to be effective February 28, 2013. His resignation shocked many around the world as he is the first Pope in almost 600 years to resign. What’s interesting though is the Vatican’s succession planning process – there isn’t one. Clearly this is a critical role for the church – akin to the CEO of any major corporation, but unlike most major corporations, the Vatican has no plan of who will succeed their top, most influential leader. Instead all Cardinals around the world are called to come to Rome for the official conclave to elect the next Pope.  In the meantime the Catholic Church is led by committee. This is not the most efficient or effective way to run any organization let alone an organization of 1 billion people.

Why should you and your organization be concerned with succession planning? Consider:

  • One in five of all senior executives in the Fortune 500 is eligible for retirement now.
  • About 50% of the entire U.S. government workforce is eligible to retire now.
  • 55% of today’s registered nurses can be expected to retire between 2011 and 2020

To ensure a smooth transition of leadership and critical roles in your organization, William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR offers these 10 Key Steps to effective succession planning:

  1. Clarify the senior leaders’ expectations and preferences for a succession program.
  2. Establish competency models by talent pool considering the positions that will be fed by that pool. A competency model is a narrative description of the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other abilities that lead to exemplary performance. Competency models provide blueprints of the talent to build at present and in the future.
  3. Conduct an individualized multi-rater, full-circle assessment. The idea is to assess individuals against the competencies required for success in an organization. The results of the assessment are then used to identify gaps between what competencies an individual currently possesses and what he or she should possess to be successful in future roles.
  4. Establish (or reengineer) an organizational performance management system.
  5. Assess individual potential for success at higher levels of responsibility.
  6. Establish a means of regular, ongoing individual development planning. Once you’ve identified what present and future gaps exist for individuals in the succession plan, establish an interactive process to help them prepare for the future by narrowing those gaps.
  7. Implement individual development plans (IDPs). This can be done in a variety of ways:
    1. Establishing in-house leadership and management learning and development programs
    2. Competency menus, in print or online, that provide specific developmental suggestions for individuals, this could be attending courses, taking developmental assignments, leading project teams, etc.
  8. Establish a talent inventory. Increasingly, decision-makers must be able to find the organization’s talent on short notice. To that end, they must have information about the pools of talent that the organization is developing and has readily on tap so that teams can be marshaled on short notice to fight fires, seize opportunities, outdraw competitors, and fill vacancies. It may also be useful to create depth and development charts to show how many people fall into different categories.
  9. Establish accountability for the systematic succession planning effort. Individuals—and their bosses—must be held accountable, for cultivating their talents over time and closing developmental gaps.
  10. Evaluate the results of the systematic succession planning effort.

Although horses can live well into their 20’s or even 30’s, as an avid rider, you always need an effective succession plan for the next generation. Plans should be developed before the need arises and opportunities for training and development should be seized to ensure their competence before you hit the trail.

As we all watch the conclave, a succession planning process that dates back to the middle ages, one has to wonder why the Vatican doesn’t have a more formal succession planning process to ensure the next Pope is ready and able to lead an organization facing a number of highly publicized scandals.

As a leader in your organization, it is imperative that you prepare the next generation of talent to successfully compete in today’s global economy.