Succession Planning Strategies for Developing Your Leadership Legacy

October 19, 2023

By: Clarissa Sinchak, PHR, Director of Human Resources

An aging workforce is an increasing concern for many financial institutions, but with thoughtful planning and a solid road map in place, it is possible to leverage the strengths of these invaluable, loyal, and tenured employees while concurrently planning for the future and growth of your organization.

Understanding Workforce Age Trends and the Road Ahead

According to recent studies, the baby boomer generation, comprising individuals aged 57 and older, reflects nearly 20% of the overall U.S. workforce population. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this same group of workers represent an even higher percentage in the financial services and banking industries – nearly 24% of the overall workforce. As such, it is important for business leaders to address this demographic shift proactively to ensure continued success of their organizations.

While the expertise of older employees is incredibly vital, there are some key challenges that an ageing workforce presents as it relates to sustaining the future of the company. Naturally, as senior employees retire, financial institutions may inevitably face a skills gap if there are not enough younger employees with the necessary skills and experience to fill these roles. This can have a negative impact on the overall morale and ultimate retention of these younger workers, not to mention an adverse effect on the continued growth and stability of the company. So, what can executive management do to help mitigate this issue?

Proactively Managing the Challenges of an Aging Workforce

To address the challenges of an aging workforce, financial institutions must adopt proactive strategies. First and foremost, focus on upskilling by providing training and development opportunities to help newer employees acquire new skills and adapt to evolving job requirements. Secondly, transfer knowledge! The natural attrition of experienced employees that all financial institutions are facing can result in a loss of institutional expertise, so it is crucial to facilitate knowledge transfer from retiring workers to younger ones.

This can be accomplished through structured training, ensuring that this valuable expertise remains within your institution. Seasoned employees bring decades of wisdom as well as unique perspectives and ideas to the workplace. They can serve as mentors and advisors to their younger counterparts, contributing to their development. Additionally, older workers also have a clearer understanding of the needs and preferences of your valued and loyal long-term clients, which can provide a competitive advantage when training their successors.

Where to Begin: The Foundation of Succession Planning

The question then becomes, “Where do we start, and how?”. Planning for leadership transition via succession planning is the answer to ensure long-term success and stability of an organization. But what exactly is succession planning?  Simply put, it is the process of developing a program to identify and prepare younger employees to take on leadership roles as their more senior counterparts retire.

Effective succession planning in financial and banking institutions reduces the harsh risks associated with leadership turnover, helps maintain overall institutional knowledge, and ensures an ongoing pipeline of qualified leaders who can navigate the ever-changing and highly regulated world of banking. In other words, succession planning ultimately contributes to the long-term stability and success of the industry and is crucial for guaranteeing a smooth transition of leadership while maintaining continuity in key positions.

Most organizations believe in the practice of succession planning, but many lack a standardized process for executing it. Or, if such a process does exist, typically too much time is spent on this traditionally time-consuming process. On the flip side, it’s not as simple as identifying, training, and placing employees.

Therefore, to begin the process of developing your financial institution’s future leaders, we recommend incorporating succession planning into your current performance management process. This strategic approach allows you to identify and develop your potential future leaders and create a talent pipeline that ensures a smooth transition of leadership and key positions. By aligning your company’s core competencies and the outcomes of your employee evaluations with your succession plan, you can ensure that you have a pool of qualified workers to fill key roles when transition time comes. This results in a methodical and proactive approach to leadership development.

Implementing Succession Planning in Your Financial Institution

To help you begin this process, we have outlined ten key steps for developing an effective succession plan for your financial institution:

1. Align the Succession Plan with Your Financial Institution’s Goals

Begin by aligning your succession plan with your institution’s strategic goals. Identify the key positions throughout the entire organization that are critical to achieving those goals and prioritize them for succession planning. Typically, these are C-suite roles (CEO, COO, CFO) and other key executive positions, but remember to consider leadership roles at lower levels that are critical to your bank or credit union’s success.

2. Hold Succession Planning Meetings with Leadership

Hold planning meetings with the key stakeholders of your financial institution as part of your talent review process. During these meetings, discuss the progress of high-potential employees, review their career development plan, and identify potential successors for critical positions.

3. Define Key Positions

Start by identifying critical roles within the organization that require succession planning. These are typically leadership, management, or specialized positions that are essential for the institution’s success. Clearly outline the criteria, competencies, and qualifications required for individuals to step into these leadership roles. Develop contingency plans for unexpected leadership openings. Identify interim leaders or backup candidates who can step in temporarily while a permanent replacement is identified and groomed.

4. Communicate and Ensure Transparency

It is crucial that you ensure employees are aware of the succession planning process and its importance within the institution. Make sure to incorporate this discussion into your performance evaluation meetings with your team. Transparent communication can motivate employees to actively participate in their own development. It also fosters engagement which is critical in retention.

5. Conduct Ongoing Performance Discussions

Conduct regular performance meetings, not just as an annual evaluation tool, but also as a forum for discussing an employee’s progress toward their development goals. Use their reviews to provide feedback and adjust their career development plan as needed. Managers should provide guidance on how employees can prepare for future roles.

6. Identify High-Potential and High-Performing Employees

Within your performance evaluation process, assess and identify high-potential and high-performing employees who have the skill sets, competencies, and interest to fill the previously determined key positions in the future. This can be done through performance reviews, ongoing feedback, and in-depth goals discussions.

7. Create Individual Career Development Plans

Work with the high-potential, high-performing employees you identified to create Individual Career Development Plans. These plans should outline their career goals, areas for development and improvement needed, and the training and experiences needed to prepare them for future roles. Also, set clear performance goals that are directly related to the competencies needed for succession in key positions. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

8. Assign Senior Mentors

Assign mentors or coaches to the employees identified as future leaders. Seasoned mentors can provide guidance, share their knowledge, and help employees develop the skills necessary for future roles. This can be done through workshops, seminars, and on-the-job training. Also, encourage cross-training and job rotations to expose high-potential employees to different areas of the organization and broaden their skill sets.

9. Regularly Monitor Progress

Continually monitor the progress of your succession plan and adjust as necessary. Succession planning is an ongoing process that should evolve with changing organizational needs.

10. Ensure Consistency and Ease of Use

Having an uncomplicated, consistent process makes it possible to maintain objectivity across all departments. To develop a comprehensive succession strategy that will benefit your financial institution, executive management must recognize that each institution needs to develop a process that fits its own specific strategic goals and objectives.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that a successful succession plan should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. It’s an ongoing process that should evolve as your community bank or credit union does. By investing in developing your leadership legacy, you can build a strong and capable leadership team that can direct your financial institution into the future.

Partnering with Young & Associates for Succession Planning

At Young & Associates, we understand the unique challenges and opportunities faced by financial institutions in managing an aging workforce and preparing for leadership transitions. Our team of seasoned experts specializes in providing comprehensive consulting services tailored to the specific needs of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions.

Don’t wait until the challenges of an ageing workforce create disruptions in your institutions. Partner with the Y&A team to develop a robust succession plan that guarantees a smooth transition of leadership, maintains continuity in key positions, and contributes to the long-term stability and success of your institution. Get in touch with us today to discuss your specific needs and challenges.

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