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Simon Oswin


Head of Professional Services

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How to implement data-driven succession planning


A leadership succession plan can help you create a pool of high potential candidates ready to step up to critical roles. The problem is that many companies don’t know which of their middle managers have the capability or the aspiration to succeed in senior positions. That can leave your talented people feeling unrecognised, unappreciated and unfulfilled.

You can address this by using a ‘data-driven’ approach to identify and develop the right people. In the process, you can learn a great deal about the capabilities of your managers, what motivates them and what specific development they require to succeed in senior roles. This allows you to provide targeted development interventions to suit different learning styles.

Here are ten steps to help you implement data-driven succession planning:

1. Convince your top team of the benefits of investing in the organisation’s talented middle managers. Emphasise the savings on external recruitment for senior roles and the retention benefit of keeping your talented people focused, motivated and loyal. Having support from the top sends out a clear message that the organisation values its high potential managers and is committed to their growth.

2. Identify the competencies your leaders need, to drive the future success of the business. Define the key requirements and success factors for senior roles, perhaps by examining the behaviour of leaders who are really effective. What are they actually doing that enables them to be so successful?

3. Encourage your senior executives to nominate managers from across the business who have the potential to progress into leadership roles. Use a performance-potential framework, such as the nine-box grid, to identify the right people.

4. Gather background information on your chosen managers, such as their experience, performance ratings and career aspirations, as well as their desire and willingness to work in different locations or other parts of the business.

5. Objectively assess their cognitive ability (using verbal and numerical reasoning tests), their individual ‘style’ (with a personality questionnaire) and what motivates them (through a motivation assessment). This will give you a fuller picture of their strengths, capabilities, personal preferences and development needs against your defined competencies. Some organisations also choose to run a development centre to assess how the behaviour of their managers compares against expectations of senior leaders in the organisation.

6. Analyse the results of your managers’ assessments against their current role, and their career aspirations, and create a detailed feedback report for each individual.

7. Conduct in-depth, one-to-one feedback reviews, to discuss the individual’s strengths, motivation, work preferences and any behaviours that might be holding them back; clarify their specific development needs and help each of them to create their own individual development plan.

8. Analyse the aggregated assessment data to create a picture of your high potential pool and develop your succession plan for specific roles. Collate the global development areas for the talent pool to identify the most important themes against which development resources can be targeted. 

9. Instead of relying on a ‘sheep dip’ approach – where your entire talent pool goes through the same programme – put in place a series of targeted development options to meet the identified needs. This could include external speaker sessions, peer-to-peer training, action learning, e-learning, cross-functional team exercises and coaching. Specific courses could be offered to cater for any common learning needs that arise. For example, strategic thinking, self-management or networking. Most importantly, allow individuals to choose which development opportunities they take, as this gives them control of their own learning.

10. Show your key managers that you value them, by promoting them into new positions where possible. Alternatively, work with them to expand their responsibilities, providing opportunities for developing their skills and raising their profile within the organisation. As your talented managers move up through the organisation, continually identify, assess and add others to your succession plans.

This data-driven approach will help you make more objective decisions about who to include in your talent pool and ensure that each person gets exactly the development they need. Additionally, 360 degree feedback can be introduced before and after the development activities, to monitor individual performance improvement and provide data to establish the return on investment in your talent pool.

Clearly, you can’t guarantee your managers a fast track to promotion but you can energise and engage them if you demonstrate that you’re prepared to invest in their future and help them achieve their career aspirations. Whether or not they get promoted, this approach can have a significant impact on each manager – enhancing their professionalism and their performance – and this can cascade throughout the business.

Another key benefit of using a data-driven approach is that the insights you gain can help with workforce planning and career mapping. So don’t file away the data; make it work for you. By analysing the job specifications and competencies of important roles or projects, when they come up, you can identify which individuals already working in your organisation will be a good fit for these positions.

Because you already understand people’s skills, motivations and aspirations, you can create a shortlist of appropriate individuals who might aspire to these roles and who are well-matched to the requirements. In other words, constantly use your data to help you put the right people in the right roles.

Proof that this data-driven approach works comes from energy company npower, which has identified and developed 168 talented middle managers who can step up to its senior roles.

Victoria Buckenham, Senior Talent & Succession Lead at npower’s parent group RWE, said: “The lesson we learned is that paying lip service to talent management isn’t enough.

You have to bring it to life and show it’s not just a tick-box exercise. For any organisation that wants to succeed, keeping managers motivated and driving talent through the ranks will be vital.”

Author Profile Picture
Simon Oswin

Head of Professional Services

Read more from Simon Oswin

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