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Progression planning: 4 ways to create tomorrow’s leaders today

Published 7 April 2021 in Leadership • 5 min read

Here’s a picture of how things may be working right now: your company invests in world-class executive education programs to improve leadership capabilities in areas that are important to its strategy and future competitiveness. At the same time, it has implemented robust processes for succession management, including leader assessments, pipeline metrics, and an established talent committee chaired by senior company leaders.  

But is it capturing the potential synergies between these two functions? And is it signaling to younger leadership talent that they are valued, actively engaged and progressing in line with their career aspirations?   

Identifying and combining key elements of succession management and leadership functions will enable you to more efficiently build and manage a robust leadership pipeline.  

Such a holistic integration is more aptly described as leadership progression rather than leadership succession. In short, you effectively help leaders progress and grow within their current roles, via lateral role moves or vertical progressions to larger, more strategic positions. At the same time, the company is seeing leadership talent progress more quickly into key positions. These newly appointed leaders are better prepared and motivated to take on new challenges. For those of you stuck in the infinite loop of replacement planning, you see the same internal succession candidate names coming up year after year but there is not systematic movement of these high value talents into key positions. Alternatively, you find yourself continually having to the fill key positions with external market candidates for similar reasons. 

Watch your words 

When it comes to leadership talent, even the language you use matters. When you use the word succession, you are signaling to the leader there is a promotion coming in the near future. Calling it progression, however, provides you with more options and covers the leadership conversations related to both development and potential role moves.  

The four steps below will help you get started with integrating your succession management with your leadership development programs.  

Four steps to integrate succession management and leadership development programs  

Detail your leadership strategy

This marks your starting point and outlines the leadership and organizational capabilities the company needs to build internally, externally, to fulfill its strategic goals. In essence, it clarifies what kind of leaders the company will need in the future to succeed.

The capabilities may range from innovation, digital enablement and customer experience to operational excellence. They are unique to each company and serve to foster success today and to create tomorrow’s businesses. The premise of a sound strategy here follows the leadership valuechain logic. Start with the company’s strategic goals, confirm the organizational capabilities that will deliver on those goals, and then identify the specific leadership proficiencies that underpin those organizational capabilities. This is also the logical time to establish, or upgrade, the company’s strategic talent committee to provide governance and active sponsorship for the implementation of leadership strategy and progression plan 

2 Deploy a fit-for-purpose leadership assessment

A leadership assessment allows you to identify individuals who might join the future leaders’ benchor leadership pipeline. Through ityour organization’s high-potential talent pool’s capabilities are matched against current and future capability requirements. With this data in hand, you can make smart decisions on whether to build or buy leadership talent. Keep in mind that not all leadership assessment tools are equal. It is important to select and validate your leadership assessment tools and processes carefully. 

You should choose a leadership talent assessment solution that is validated for both development and selection purposesand can be used for both internal leadership progression and external hiring, employing the same measures to assess candidate quality and role fit. When the assessment process is carried out in this optimal fashion, the candidate is provided with deep insights into their strengths, weaknesses, areas of potential and development priorities. It provides the talent committee with valuable insights on each leader so the right development and progression actions can be taken.  

Work the leadership progression plan 

Your internal talent needs to be developed in order to meet, fulfill and, you hope, exceed expectations in their new role. Individualized development coaching (IDC) is a growth process that enables internal candidates to become role-ready and minimize the risk of derailing in a new, larger role. As progression candidates become more senior, their development should be increasingly personalized. Progression candidates will benefit mainly from bespoke development interventions designed to coach, mentor or teach them key operational and personal levers that they must have mastery over before embarking on their new leadership journey. Monitoring each leader’s developmentor role-ready progress, should be undertaken at annual or bi-annual intervals to ensure that internal succession candidates are on track.   

Define the leadership transition 

To ensure successful leadership role transitions across the organization takes effort, but after so much careful preparation, the organization cannot afford for their new appointees to fail. Invest in personal transition coaching for each candidate, enabling them to draft a first 90-day plan and even a first-year plan with their line manager. Such risk mitigation works well for all stakeholders involved and calibrates new role expectations for the leader and their manager

We suggest a targeted new leader 360 degree mini-assessment at the six-month mark in the new role. This can be a brief verbal or online feedback session that outlines how well this leader has integrated into their new role and team with valuable behavioral feedback from their peers, their manager and from direct reports. It allows the leader to take rapid course correction, avoid derailment and sustain their motivation.

This robust, sustainable platform for identifying, growing and transitioning leaders, and then helping them succeed in larger roles, leaves an organization more self-sufficient and more able to foresee and manage inevitable change. If your business has not moved to integrate your leadership development and succession management effort, it needs to. Now.   


Ric Roi

Richard Roi

Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organization at IMD

Ric Roi is Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organization at IMD. He is a senior business psychologist and advises boards and CEOs on matters related to board renewal, CEO succession, top team effectiveness and leadership transitions.


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