The Benefits of Coupling Training and Development with Succession Planning

POSTED: Jul. 26, 2017

Program ParticipantTraining and development is not just a nice benefit for your employees, but key for an organization’s short- and long-term health. Organizations are composed of human beings, which are the essential resource. The better the quality of that resource the better off the organization is as a whole. Just as the name suggests, the management of this human resource is the responsibility of the Human Resource (HR) department.

A main focus for training and development programs is equipping and improving employees with specific skills, but these programs have additional far-reaching benefits. Training and development programs help improve employee satisfaction, which increases employee retention and employee engagement. It also helps fill gaps in the organization created by the mass exodus of the baby boomers through the internal development of talent. This makes training and development programs crucial for the short- and long-term health of an organization both in ability and motivation, which leads to increased productivity.

While training programs help address the looming talent shortage, they also help keep pace with rapidly changing technology. Technology is improving at an exponential rate and has proven itself as a powerful tool for increasing productivity. However, organizations can only reap the benefits if the employees know how to leverage these new tools effectively. Training and development programs can play a crucial role in keeping employees equipped with the skills and knowledge to stay current with all the technological tools available to them.

This means that a successful HR professional and department need to be a “jack of all trades.” HR can’t be content with merely formalizing training and development programs, but must also stay abreast of what new skills employees and the organization will benefit from. Beyond this general understanding, HR departments need to focus on individualizing these training and development programs. HR departments should individualize employee programs to fill gaps in their knowledge base and skill set, as well as better leverage strengths already present. To manage a resource well, a department has to be completely familiar with that resource and with human beings that means communicating with the individual employees who likely know where they need the most training. It also means taking into account the aspirations of the employee, so that the organization and the employee are all pulling in the same direction.

In addition, training and development programs create a deeper bench. By working to help all the employees improve, the level of talent that an organization can draw from also increases. This means that a training and development program should be seen as an investment that will pay dividends in the future. This payment will come in increased productivity through the development of:

  • Employees’ skills
  • Employee engagement
  • Employee retention

This depth of talent also creates a pool of potential employees that are trained and equipped to fill crucial positions in the company, creating greater stability and continuity. This means that training and development plans, while individualized to the employee, must always keep the needs of the organization in mind. Therefore, training and development programs should be coordinated with an organization’s succession plan.

Succession Planning

Traditionally, succession plans identify potential replacements for key positions, while training and development is meant to improve the skills of the individual, or is seen as a benefit provided by the company. By combining training and development with a succession plan, an organization can better prepare for the looming talent shortage and the uncertainty that the future holds. This uncertainty is heightened with employees (especially ones with high-potential) moving from organizations more regularly.

Combining the organization’s succession plan with its training and development program, allows an organization to groom and equip high-potential employees for their future roles in the company. This creates a sense of stability and security. In addition, research has shown that hiring employees externally for key positions costs more and those candidates tend to be less successful than their internally trained counterparts. This all makes a strong case to centralize training and development and succession planning, and place it under the management of the HR department. With that in mind, below are the key steps that an HR department could take to successfully combine and manage succession planning and training and development.

Identify ­– While it is beneficial to offer training and development programs to all employees, resources are finite and it is sensible to allocate those resources wisely. This means that it is essential to identify high-potential employees. Research shows that the earlier high-potential employees are identified, the better the outcomes for the employee and the organization. This identification allows the organization to best allocate resources to those who show the greatest potential to hold key positions in the future. The identification process is not based solely on present performance, but also must be based on the requirements of their future position. Someone who performs amazingly in sales may not have the right skill set or temperament to be a good a COO.

Recognize Gaps – In combining a succession plan with a training and development plan, HR needs to identify two gaps:

1. The potential gaps in the organizational structure and

2. The gaps in the employee’s skill set

The easiest way to determine both these gaps is to create a profile for each of the linchpin positions in the company. Then use this profile, which includes skill set, experience, personality and behavior, to identify high-potential employees and where they need to improve to be prepared to fill the position that they have been identified for in the succession plan. The profile stands as a goal and checklist on which to focus employee training and development.

Equip – Once the organization and employee skills gaps are determined, HR can effectively create individualized training and development plans to properly equip employees. This should also include real-world experience across a breadth of different departments. This broad hands-on experience allows future leaders to be intimately acquainted with how the many moving parts of the organization function independently and as a whole. This allows for more informed decisions when the employee is in a key leadership position, as well as invaluable real-world experience to hone their newly acquired skills.

Re-evaluate – Succession plans and training and development programs are dynamic in nature. As people come and go, as well as learn and develop, both need to adapt to take into account these changes. In addition, as the training and development program progresses, certain talents might be uncovered in an employee that makes them better suited for a different position. Sometimes employees may not live up to the potential that managers saw in them and adjustments should be made accordingly. This all means that HR must keep a close eye on both plans through regular re-evaluations.

Creating a Culture ­– A key to the success of both plans is creating a culture that takes succession planning and training and development seriously. This means creating a culture that focuses on the long-term health and success of the organization and, therefore, the employees that make it up. Some companies have encouraged this culture by requiring employees in linchpin positions to identify possible replacements for themselves to the board and HR department, as well as being involved in their training and development. What is essential is that culture comes from the top down, the board and executives have to be onboard for HR to be successful in developing a culture that values and sees succession planning and training and development as a wise investment in the organization’s present and future.

The Benefits

Succession planning, especially when coupled with a training and development program, has a significant impact on the bottom line. This combination means that when there is turnover, instead of HR desperately searching for a good fit for a key position, they have already trained someone with the exact skill set that they are looking for. This saves time and money, since internal promotions tend to cost less than outside hires, and cuts out expenses like posting the position and onboarding to orient the new hire. This process also creates a sense of stability in times of potential crisis at the unexpected loss of a CEO or other linchpin position. Furthermore, it is an excellent way to retain top talent. If organizations invest in employees and exhibit how much room for development there is, employees are less likely to look outside the company for their own personal career development.

A training and development plan is an investment in your human resources that will pay massive returns in productivity. It will guard against potential losses, but will also pay further dividends in employee retention, productivity, innovation and stable leadership. Succession planning and training and development are two essential areas of focus for any HR department concerned with the current and future health of their organization.