Career Management vs Succession Management

23rd May 2023  |  Tim Els

With the changing economic environment, many organisations are asking, ‘do we have the right talent?’ and ‘what does the talent pipeline look like?’ Research has shown organisations are rejuvenating and bolstering their talent management processes either by identifying successors and talent pools (top down approach), or by helping individuals develop their own career path (bottom up approach).

Both processes seek to: Increase or secure retention of key talent; manage corporate risk by ensuring a supply of talent to fulfill future business roles; reduce recruitment costs; realise individual’s potential; increase organisational capability.

So what are the respective approaches and considerations for succession and career management?

Career management

Career management is the set of processes that organisations use to inform, direct and manage the career paths of individual employees. Typically, they look at careers from each employee’s perspective. This supports organisations where employees increasingly seek control over their own destinies, including potential career advancement and personal development, thereby contributing to the continuity of talent supply for the organisation.

With employees more engaged in their own advancement, there is often a corresponding increase in productivity and staff retention and a requirement for Managers to be trained as coaches and to work with each of their staff to develop and implement a career/development plan.

Role-Based Career Pathing: Identify patterns of career steps, (e.g. virtually all successful Regional Managers were District Managers for 5 years before adopting that role) and identify recurring routes by which individuals’ careers have evolved. Share these patterns with appropriate employees – this helps them identify potential career routes and development needs.

Capability-Based Career Pathing: Some organisations define and share the knowledge, competencies, skills and experiences, etc. that are needed to move into each job and may be acquired while in each job. Employees can then (a) assess themselves and (b) review positions and/or career paths that may be suitable.

Most organisations attempt to employ a combination of role-based and capability-based approaches.

Succession management

Succession management is another proactive approach that ensures continuing leadership by cultivating talent from within the organisation through planned development activities. It differs from career management in that it is not driven from the employees’ perspective or aspirations (although these may be included). The focus is more on a systematic approach in assessing the organisations’ requirements and determining in a disciplined way, the actions needed to ensure the availability of potential people for future vacancies (usually critical roles), thereby ensuring successors or a pipeline of talent. This would be driven frequently by managers or talent boards identifying successors or potentials for a Talent Pool.

Informal: Succession planning is often an informal process in an organisation with little structure. Informal planning often fails to consider possible organisational changes, structural adjustment, changing requirements for leadership talent, or valuable potential successors located in other parts of the organisation. It also is generally a private process, not widely communicated within the organisation, senior managers generally do not have any input into the process outside their own hierarchies.

There is limited or no transparency in the processes or even to individuals who may be highlighted for succession. Without strategic input, there is a tendency for senior executives to try (often unconsciously) to perpetuate future leadership in their own images, i.e., to choose successors who are very much like themselves. Solid data on required competencies, performance and potential, in the form of assessment ratings, performance appraisals and supervisor evaluations can help reduce this bias.

Formal:  Ideally, succession planning starts effectively with the business plan answering some basic questions:

To do this, you will have to decide whether you are going to:

  What areas of our business will grow?
•  What areas of our business will decline?
  What areas of the business will be “outsourced” to strategic partners, vendors, and/or other organisations?
  What business opportunities have recently emerged?
  Have we made the decision to pursue or not pursue the opportunities?
  What are the key strategic initiatives being attacked?

Answers to these questions, along with the demographics (age and skill profile) of the current organisation, should feed into a manpower plan that identifies requirements – this is where succession strategies can divide between succession based on specific positions and succession based on talent pools.