Marie: Companies Need Innovative Succession Planning

As the Baby Boomer generation retires, companies face a monumental task: building effective succession plans. Our Managing Partner, Marie Kanellopulos, explains how a dynamically designed in-house talent development program is the solution for the upcoming challenge.

June 14, 2024

Approximately 13 million workers will retire by 2036, which equates to nearly one-third of today's workforce entering their pensions. Many HR professionals have yet to adjust their succession plans to this dramatic development. Without these adjustments, many key roles and leadership positions are likely to remain vacant for extended periods, rendering a company unable to act.

To address this, it is necessary to develop an effective succession strategy for the next ten years. As recruiting external candidates becomes increasingly difficult due to the growing shortage of skilled workers, HR managers should focus their strategy on training internal talent.

The Basis: Knowing Actual Retirement Plans

To establish and continuously adapt a valid succession strategy, ongoing data collection is essential. For example, HR professionals are aware of the theoretical retirement age of their employees, but often do not know their actual plans. Regular discussions with senior colleagues are crucial to determine their real retirement intentions, preferences for early retirement solutions or part-time retirement programs, and their openness to flexible retirement entries or even flexible work models like temporary assignments during parental leave or sabbaticals. This information should be stored in a database to avoid surprises for HR managers and allow for timely succession planning.

Selecting Future Talents Via Data

People Analytics plays a crucial role in succession planning, helping to identify employees with potential. Therefore, HR professionals should collect data on demographics, expertise, soft skills, salary structures, satisfaction, training measures, and historical development paths for each individual employee. This enables HR professionals to spot and foster talent.

Focusing On Future-Proof Competencies

It is essential that this assessment focuses on sustainable competencies, such as soft skills including empathy, diplomacy, tolerance, trust, openness, teamwork, flexibility, and intercultural and communication skills. Technical knowledge can be acquired through training over the years, but character strengths are harder to develop. These abilities are indispensable for future leaders, regardless of the position. These soft skills are also needed in the future because departments increasingly work together and integrate more diverse individuals into teams and key positions.

Agile Succession Planning

Once potential candidates have been identified, their development plans should not be tailored to specific positions, as rigid succession rules pose the risk that a selected individual may develop differently than anticipated. A dynamic succession plan that considers various candidates and scenarios minimises risks and increases resilience. This also means developing a broad group of talents rather than focusing on a few employees.

HR managers can implement this effectively by placing candidates in different departments and positions over the years, supporting them with constructive and regular feedback, training, job shadowing, and cross-generational mentorship programs. In addition, a cooperative leadership style helps develop young talents. This method, in which decisions are made together with employees, gives team members the opportunity to actively participate in strategic discussions, make decisions, and take on management projects. This way, they gain their first leadership experiences. In addition, such measures enhance the overall motivation and progress of all employees.


In short, the internal talent pool should be broad and agile, not rigidly structured along traditional career paths. Future-relevant soft skills remain the compass for selecting potential successors. A shortlist of suitable successors can still be drawn up in good time before the planned job takeover. These individuals then receive intensive leadership training and already support the manager they are to replace. This final test phase allows HR professionals to reassess whether the position suits them.

Although the comprehensive development of employees requires additional work and investment, it pays off. Proactive personnel development and clear promotion opportunities increase recognition, commitment, and loyalty. This approach also increases the efficiency and speed of the recruitment process. Nevertheless, HR professionals may still occasionally need to resort to external candidates.

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