Recruiting and Succession Planning: Three Tips on Getting Involved

Succession planning is the fastest and cheapest way to get a well-qualified person into an open position. Unfortunately, very few organizations have a well-thought-out or well-executed succession planning program. CEO egos, most people’s dislike of thinking about a time when they won’t be in a position, fear of competition, and time pressures all work against putting robust succession planning in place. Organizations that do execute well have long histories of leadership succession and strong financial performance. General Electric, IBM, Proctor and Gamble and many others underline how effective planning for future leadership can be. Succession planning makes sense. People promoted internally have a track record. Everyone has a sense of how experienced, skilled, and competent they are. Other employees know how well the person fits the culture of the organization, and the decision to transfer or promote someone is based in part of this ability to fit in and be accepted. Internal people have more credibility with their peers and with their bosses because they relate to the organization’s history and have had common experiences. None of this is trivial at all, as many (perhaps most) new hire failures can be traced to the lack of cultural fit and acceptance. Our question is whether or not recruiters should play a role in succession planning. Today, they are mostly are uninvolved (or even uninterested). In discussing this with many recruiters, I have come to the conclusion that the three reasons below are the key to why they have ignored the process and have not been champions of it. First of all, most recruiters have an external focus and rarely even think about filling a position internally. Many anxiously wait for any mandatory internal posting process to end (mostly without any internal candidate coming forward or being chosen), so that they can get on with their external search and hire. They are reactionary ó not strategic ó and love the challenge of finding someone outside. Secondly, if there is a succession planning process, recruiters are rarely part of it. They are not brought in by the HR team or line management. Most HR generalists and line managers also think of recruiters as externally focused. most recruiters are afraid of succession planning. Many fear that if the process were really successful, they would lose their job or be reduced to hiring entry-level people. These recruiters enjoy the interaction with technical professionals and the ego boost of seeking out high-level executives. Entry-level recruiting is often left for junior recruiters. However, as the economy picks up and as talent shortages increase, recruiters may find that their best chance of survival is to become knowledgeable about succession planning. Here are a few tips on how to become involved in (or even how to start) the process in your organization. 1. Explain why recruiters should be part of the process. Recruiting is not only about external candidates. Creating talent pools internally and helping your organization assess employees can save time and lower overall recruiting costs. You can turn your own tools and skills into assessing the internal workforce and making recommendations of people for various positions. Everything we do with external candidates can (and should) be done internally. Skills and cultural fit assessments, analysis of past performance, reference checks, and experience can be used to create internal, pre-qualified pools of candidates for many positions. When openings occur, managers can tap into this pool and quickly find the right person without ever going outside. The recruiter’s function is to make sure that the talent pool exists and contains the best people your organization has, each earmarked for the variety of possible positions they could fit into with little to no development. Robust programs will even have assessed candidates who have potential, but who do not yet have the expertise or experience for a particular position. These may be the people chosen for development programs. 2. Help your organization define a talent philosophy. I have written many articles on talent planning, and at the center of these articles is the admonition to articulate a talent philosophy. What do I mean? Very simply, try to write a few sentences that describe to anyone what the principles are that are key to your organization’s hiring. For example, do you primarily hire mid-level professionals and promote them to more senior positions? Or does your company not believe in development of employees at all and hires only experienced and qualified people at all levels? Does your organization bring in college hires? Why? How do they get promoted and how quickly does it happen? Is skill and competency, compensation, or cultural fit the primary decision factor in hiring someone (almost always, one of these is king)? By knowing what practices and philosophies underlie what you do, you can gain insight into what should change and, perhaps, even get a sense of how to change it. In my experience, most organizations have a weak understanding of their own philosophy. Only a few, like General Electric and P&G, for example, have a very clear approach and solid, aligned internal systems that make it clear how to get promoted and who gets the most heavily recruited. The recruiter’s job should be to help make sure that internal promotion and transfers are a key part of this philosophy. 3. Be persistent. Ask the VP or director of HR about succession planning. Their answer will be very revealing about the overall organizational approach to internal growth and development. If they believe there is a good program in place, explain how you might contribute to making it an even better process. If there is no program, volunteer to be part of a team to create a succession planning process. The basic process is little different from external recruiting ó it’s just that the search is internal, the assessments can be even more robust, and the talent pools are very similar to any you might create for external candidates. If you would like more information on creating a succession planning process, send me an email at By tapping into the current workforce better than before, by vigorously making internal people the first stop in filling in any position, and by applying the tools and skills you already have, you can expand your role, improve your own chance of succession, and contribute real value to the people in your organization.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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