Succession Planning for Hourly Employees: How to Identify and Develop Internal Talent at Lower Levels

By JoAnne Kruse Founder, HCpartners | September 25, 2011

Succession and career development concepts have been thoroughly explored at the executive and management levels, with most companies providing cultural and experiential training required to cultivate future leaders. But perhaps an even greater return on investment is available by identifying and developing hourly employees in bench positions – jobs that typically are critical to an operation and can wreak havoc if unexpectedly vacated. Succession planning and development of lower level staff can become an effective driver of improved retention, higher productivity and engagement.

Succession planning and career development efforts are typically driven by the need to identify and develop future talent to ensure a level of continuity in operations and leadership. However, the need to ensure continuity of knowledge and minimize the impact of unplanned vacancies is not limited to the C-suite. Although succession efforts typically start with middle management, the historical feeding pool for future executives, hourly, supervisory and many positions below middle management warrant inclusion for the same reasons.

A key component of talent management includes addressing the needs of future succession in key positions. Typical succession processes consider the position, the person, or both. Position-based succession requires the identification of key or bench positions, those jobs that would create a significant negative impact on the operation if vacant or filled with a poor performer. These positions are usually characterized as providing a competitive advantage; requiring long learning curves and/or experiential learning as key development method; or act as critical influencing roles. Identification and development of successors is based on a clear understanding of the current and future skills and knowledge required to perform the accountabilities of the role, and succession is generally an exercise focused more on replacement and risk management. A good example of a bench position is the General Manager of a property.

Person-based succession program assumes that the capabilities, behavioral competencies and contributions of an individual are critical to the company's future success and proper identification and development of the "right" individual will serve the interests of the company long term. Identification and development of successors is based on culturally-desirable behaviors, individual experience and knowledge, and the underlying belief that the person makes the job, not the other way around. An example of a person-based program is a behavioral based assessment tool like 360 degree feedback is used as a core component of identifying and developing "stars". A combined position- and person-based program is the most effective way to identify and develop talent needs, typically forecasting needs and availability of talent over a 12 to 36 month period. The two work in concert through a systematic review of bench positions, assignment of potential successors, and identification of high potentials who may not match specific roles, but are viewed as strong resources for a variety of yet undetermined positions.

Practically, succession systems are driven by the future staffing needs of a dynamic environment. Whether family-run or a large corporate setting, the need to evaluate and build talent pipeline stems from several different factors:

• Limitations in available talent due to an aging workforce, changes in labor demographics, visa restrictions, and the economy limiting mobility.
• Skill gaps in training, knowledge, education, communication and technology in the existing and future workforce.
• Retention and continued engagement of top performers and talent in bench positions.
• The cost, productivity implications, and operational impact for the recruitment, development, replacement of personnel.

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