Assessing Potential

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A fifth important component of any effective succession planning program is

some means by which to assess individual potential for the future. What is the

individual’s potential for advancement to higher levels of responsibility, or to

higher levels of technical expertise in his or her specialization? That is the

question answered by this component.

One approach that is increasingly used for potential assessment is fullcircle,

multirater feedback. Described in an earlier chapter, this involves assessing

an individual’s potential based on the perceptions of those surrounding

him or her in the organization. It is important to remember, however, that

potential assessment should be conducted in the context of work requirements.

In other words, an individual should not just be appraised for his or

her current abilities. Instead, he or she should be assessed for meeting future

job requirements or future competencies.

Both PC-usable software and Web-based full-circle, multirater assessment

instruments are widely available. To find many of them, it is only necessary to

type ‘‘360 assessment’’ into a search engine on the Web. But a word of caution

is again in order: most full-circle, multirater assessment instruments have been

based on competency models from other organizations. That means they are

not necessarily useful, applicable, or even appropriate in all corporate cultures.

To be most effective, a company-specific competency model must be

prepared for every department or every job category (such as supervisor, manager,

and executive). Potential assessment is useful only when done in this

way. Indeed, rating individual potential on competencies that are not company-

specific can lead to major mistakes and miscalculations. Hence, while

online and high-tech approaches can be useful, they should be used appropriately

to measure individual potential within a unique corporate culture.

Closing Developmental Gaps

Closing developmental gaps is a sixth important component of any effective

SP&M program. This component leads to an action plan to help individuals

narrow the gap between what they can do now and what they need to do

to advance. Individual development planning is the process by which this is


Although few software packages exist to support the individual development

planning process—in fact, I could find none after an extensive search on

the Web—many resources can be found on the Web to assist with the process.

For instance, sample forms can be found at the time this book goes to press at,

next6.htm, and Sample policies

guiding the use of an individual development planning (IDP) form can

also be found at the time this book goes to press at

ODT/idp.htm and, and a sample

training plan about individual development planning can be found at http://

Maintaining Talent Inventories

A seventh important component of any effective SP&M program is some means

by which to maintain talent or skill inventories. How can the organization keep

track of the knowledge, skills, and competencies of existing staff? That is the

question answered by talent or skill inventories. Organizations possessing no

means by which to inventory talent will have a difficult time locating qualified

people in the organization when vacancies occur in key positions or when

emergencies arise. Every organization should have some way to inventory its


Succession planning and management inventories may take two forms:

manual or automated. A manual system relies on paper files. It consists of

individual personnel files or specialized records, assembled especially for

SP&M, that take the form of a succession planning and management notebook

or Rolodex file. These files contain information relevant to making succession

decisions, such as:

Descriptions of individual position duties or competencies (for instance,

a current position description)

Individual employee performance appraisals

Statements of individual career goals or career plans

Summaries of individual qualifications (for instance, educational and

training records)

Summaries of individual skills (for instance, a personal skill inventory

that details previous work experience and languages known)1

Of course, other information may be added, such as individual potential assessment

forms and replacement planning charts.

A manual inventory will suffice for a small organization having neither specialized

expertise available to oversee SP&M activities nor resources available

for automated systems. A chief advantage is that most of the information is

filed in personnel files anyway, so no monumental effort is necessary to compile

information on individual employees. However, a manual inventory can

lead to difficulties in handling, storing, cross-referencing, and maintaining security

over numerous (and sometimes lengthy) forms. Even in a small organization,

these disadvantages can present formidable problems.

Even small organizations, however, can now gain access to relatively inexpensive

PC-based software that places much information at a manager’s (or HR

specialist’s) fingertips. One example is People Manager (see

item.html?s-5040&i-878&pos-5&sessionid-S9nac7q-43 5). A second is People-

Trak (see

Using Technology to Support Succession Planning and Management Programs 289

43 5). A third is !Trak-IT HR (see

17&sessionid-S9nac7q-4 35). Each software package permits some limited talent

inventorying that can be useful even in small businesses.

Automated inventories used in SP&M take any one of three typical forms:

(1) simple word processing files; (2) tailored SP&M software; or (3) SP&M

software integrated with other personnel records. Simple word processing

files are the next step beyond paper files. Special forms (templates) are created

for SP&M using a popular word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Blank forms are placed on disk or CD-ROM. Managers are asked to complete

the forms on disk and return them, physically or electronically, to a central

location. This approach reduces paper flow and makes handling, storing, and

security easier to manage than is possible with paper records. Unfortunately,

SP&M information that is inventoried in this manner will usually be troublesome

to cross-reference.

Tailored SP&M software is becoming more common. Much of it is now

Web-based or suitable for Web applications. Succession planning and management

coordinators should review several such packages before purchasing

one. The chief advantage of this software is that it is designed specifically for

SP&M. Indeed, it can give decision-makers good ideas about desirable features

to change, add to, or subtract from the SP&M program. Handling, storing,

cross-referencing, and maintaining security over much information is greatly

simplified. While software prices were relatively high even a few years ago,

they are now affordable to most organizations employing fifty or more people.

The only major disadvantage of this software is that it can present temptations

to modify organization needs to satisfy software demands. In other

words, software may not provide sufficient flexibility to tailor SP&M forms and

procedures to meet the unique needs of one organization. That can be a major

drawback. For this reason, SP&M software should be carefully reviewed, in

cooperation with the vendor, prior to purchase. Of course, it may be possible

for the vendor to modify the software to meet organizational needs at a modest


Succession planning and management software may also be integrated

with other personnel systems. In this case—and some large organizations attempt

to keep all data in one place, usually in a mainframe system, in an effort

to economize the problems inherent in multiple-source data entry and manipulation—

SP&M information is included with payroll, training, and other records.

Unfortunately, such software is usually of limited value for SP&M

applications. To be tailored to a large organization’s uses, such software may

have to undergo lengthy and large-scale programming projects. A typical—and

major—problem with such mainframe HRIS programs is that they provide insufficient

storage space for detailed, individualized recordkeeping tailored to

unique organizational procedures. When that is the case, it may be easier to

use a personal-computer-based system—or else mount a massive, expensive,

and probably quickly dated programming effort to modify a mainframe program.