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SuccessFactors launched its Succession Management cloud technology solution in 2004. The solution has since been deployed by over 900 organizations and received countless enhancements.   The extensive technology features built over 11 years can be seen by looking at system demos such as the one here ( ).  While the technology is impressive, what is equally valuable are lessons we’ve learned from customers about how to use technology to create and maintain talent pipelines.

One thing we learned from customers is there is no “single best way” to conduct succession management.  Techniques that work in some companies might fail in others. For example, I’ve seen companies evaluate performance and potential using 9 boxes, 4 boxes, 11 boxes, 16 boxes, and 25 boxes[1].  The number of boxes does not matter nearly as much as how well the process was supported. In other words, it is often not what you do but how you do it that matters most.   

We’ve also learned that customers who get the most value from succession management technology do far more than just keep track of who can replace current leaders.   They use succession to create talent flow across the organization.   We recently interviewed several customers who are doing this and uncovered ten operating principles they seem to share in common. In general these customers: 

  1. Understand the difference between replacement planning and talent flow.  The first one asks “who are the critical people in our company and who can do their jobs if they leave?”  The second asks “how can we a steady supply of the talent we need to sustain and grow the business?”
  2. Believe in the potential of their workforce and are willing to invest in it.   Are managers rewarded for transferring high potential employees out of their groups into other parts of the company? 
  3. Develop people for their next best job.   Given the pace of change in the world, what employees will be doing in 5 years is likely to be quite different from what they are doing now. How are you preparing them?
  4. Make development a privilege and an honor.  Investing in a person’s career is a valuable reward for a job well done.   Do people in your company treat it this way?
  5. Create a common method for assessing performance and potential. You can’t build a talent pipeline if you don’t know who your talent is. 
  6. Use data to shine a light on the problems.    Be willing to confront leaders that are sacrificing long-term talent goals to meet short-term operational needs.
  7. Welcome difficult questions and conversations about talent.  Decisions related to staffing and promotions are highly visible. Be open to discussing how the company makes these decisions.
  8. Don’t clog the talent pipeline.  You can’t build careers without providing people with career opportunities.
  9. Track the financial results associated with employee development investments.  What is the value of investing in people’s development?  What is the cost if you fail to develop talent?

  10. Give the process time to mature before making radical changes. It takes years to develop senior leadership skills.   Give them time to grow.

If you’d like to learn more about these ten principles I encourage you to:

It is fascinating what can be learned from 11 years of experience working to improve succession management through the effective use of cloud technology applications.    And all we did is listen to customers.


[1] A “9 box” is a method to categorize employees in order to guide succession management actions.   Succession candidates are placed onto a 9 box grid based on 3 point ratings of performance and potential.  4 boxes, 16 boxes and 25 boxes are variations of this approach using 2, 4 or 5 point rating scales instead of the 3 point scale used in a 9 box.