How to Identify High Potential Employees for Your Business Succession Planning - Sample

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How to Identify High Potential Employees for Your Business Succession Planning - Sample

Business succession planning is an integral part of the HR Department's advisory services to the management. It participates in the development of employees' professional skills, which has become one of every Chief HR Officer's core activities. Moreover, it is the latter's task to draw the management's attention to succession-related issues, in line with the organization's strategic orientations and the ensuing budget forecasts. A company that neglects this strategicissue might indeed find itself helpless, should it be confronted to the unexpected departure of some of its key people.

In order for your succession planning to be relevant, the company will first need to identify its high potential employees, i.e. the organization's "key people". This is all the more important if your company keeps surplus staff in reserve without giving them any concrete development opportunities. This can indeed prove a major cause of dissatisfaction and result in high turnover rates.


Drawing up your company's people portfolio (illustration) - derived by analogy from Boston Consulting Group's "growth-share matrix" model - will allow you defining a global development strategy for the company staff as a whole. The graph is drawn along the two following axes:

  1. the results of the periodical performance appraisals (ratings)
  2. the subjective perception of the employee’s potential for development 

The people portfolio matrix may be read as follows:

  1. Quadrant I: This quadrant visually represents a population of employees who display a low potential and whose ratings are unsatisfactory. This is the equivalent of "question mark" products/services in the BCG model.
  2. Quadrant II: Here we find a population of high potential employees whose ratings are weak. The causes of this state of affairs ought to be investigated. It may be, for example, that an underuse of these employees’ skills has resulted in a loss of motivation.
  3. Quadrant III: These are the "stars", the company’s key-people. The crucial point here is to check whether these employees have all been included into business succession plans.
  4. Quadrant IV: Such employees display proficiency at work, yet their potential for further development seems to be limited.

Please note that diverse assessment techniques (computer tests, Assessment Centers…) may be implemented in order to objectify perceptions regarding the candidates’ potential.


Once you have determined the key positions for which a succession plan must be designed, you can assign two successors to each of the corresponding job holders. This process is based on the company's people portfolio and leads to the selection of:

  • Successor A: This is the person who would best fit into the considered position. Both the candidate’s professional and behavioral skills should be considered, as well as his/her age.

Should the candidate not be able to immediately take over the position, a competency management system should be implemented, so as to allow for the assessment of the competency gap that has yet to be bridged. Also, a training program (or "development plan") should be set up in order to prepare such candidates for their future role.

  • Successor B: This may be a candidate who disposes the necessary skills and experience to "do the job", even if he/she is not able to significantly contribute to its evolution. Such person could fill in the position ad interim, while the company searches for a more sustainable job holder. 

Successors (especially in the A category) should ideally be chosen among the company’s high potential employees (Quadrant III of the "people portfolio" diagram). In the absence of such options, it will have to be resorted to the populations of the adjacent quadrants (Quadrants II and IV), depending on the searched profile and the replacement timeline.

Going through these steps will thus allow detecting possible lacks in terms of succession options. If, for a given position, no candidate – whether A or B – can be found, the company will have to search the jobs market for a replacement. In the organizational chart, the word "SEARCH" will be written under the corresponding position and the Chief HR Officer may set up a recruitment order book.


Here is an organizational chart that includes a business succession planning (sample). In this example, we will only consider the two top management levels. In any case, it is up to the company to decide for which levels a succession planning ought to be designed.

Finally, here is a Management Development program (sample) showing the assignment of responsibilities within the Management Development process. It is dedicated to the structuring of a succession and development plan and is taken from a real-life case study.


Responsibility:  Public:
M: Management of the process (initialization and control)
S: Support with competencies
E: Execution of the activity
D: Decision-making for the activity
I: Investment into development and financing
I: Top management
II: Heads of the Departments
III: Team leaders and managers


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