Succession Planning Development Plans: Skill Gaps or Experience Gaps?

Let’s say you’ve had your talent
review meeting
, using a performance
and potential (9 box) matrix
, and have identified a pool of high potential
employees. Or, you’ve done a position based succession plan for key positions,
and identified a slate of 3-4 candidates for each position. Maybe you’re a
manager, and you’re just concerned about identifying and grooming successors
for you own position, so that you’ll have a replacement ready when it’s time
for you to move up or on.
Now what? Well, unless you create and implement a targeted,
robust, realistic, and measurable development plan, all that work will have
been for nothing. Because in 2-3 years, you’ll be staring at the same list of
candidates, and they won’t be any more ready than they were when you started.
The Skill Gap
High potentials or succession planning candidates are rarely
“ready now” for a higher level position. There’s always at least one
significant “gap”, usually a few, that stands between them and being qualified
for that next level position. The most common way to create development plans
to address those gaps is to identify 1-3 key skills, or competencies, that the
candidate is lacking that need to get better at. For example, the ability to “think
strategically” is often identified for senior level positions. To create a
development plan to address this skill gap, we might have the candidate take an
executive development course in strategy, be mentored or coached by someone who’s
really strategic, and assign them to lead a project that will require them to
be strategic.  For each skill, you’d have
a set of development actions to address the skill.
The Experience Gap Approach:
There’s an less often used, but just as effective way to get
someone ready for a higher level position – the experience gap approach.
Managers often find it challenging to identify specific
skills required for a role. Even when they do, coming up with the right mix of
development actions often involves a little bit of guess work and a roll of the
dice. In the example above, there’s no guarantee the candidate is actually
going to learn how to think strategically by doing that mix of activities. They
may learn how to plan, delegate, develop a strategy, influence, and who knows
what else, but never learn how to think
in a difference way.  That’s the nature of
development – no two people will learn the exact same thing taking an identical
course, being coached by the same individual, or leading the same project.
So instead of trying to identify and close skill gaps, it’s
often easier to identify the key experiences a candidate needs in order to be
qualified for the higher level position. For example, in order to be a global general
manager, a candidate should have the following experiences:
– Created a budget
– Led a multi-function, diverse team
– Worked in at least two difference countries
– Have turned around a struggling business
– Created an implemented a new go-to-market strategy
– Led a six-sigma project
Once these key experiences have been identified, it’s much
easier to assess s if a candidate has done these things – you just need to read
their resume. If they have not, then viola, there’s the development plan –
i.e., create a budget, a transfer to a role in a different country, etc…
New experiences will always develop many new skills, not just one.
When this approach is used, it’s still important to identify
other elements of the development plan needed to learn how to be successful in
the new experience. For any of the examples above, the person is going to have
a greater chance of success – and development – if they supplement the experience
with the right courses, books, subject matter experts, etc…. At the end of the
day, the desired end result is the same – a qualified successor.
In my experience, both methods are equally effective.
However, if you find yourself stuck using the skill gap method, try the experience
gap method and it should get you to the same place.