Four Questions to Ask When Evaluating Leaders as Part of Your Succession Planning

By Lyn Currie, Managing Director, Waterstone Human Capital

Making sure that you have the right people in place to ensure the ongoing growth and continuity of your organization is vital. Succession planning, especially for senior roles, starts with understanding which positions will require a smooth leadership transition and then making sure you have the right people in place to step into those key roles when the time is right.

Identifying the skills, knowledge, and capabilities required by the person (or people) who will be considered as part of your succession planning discussions is important, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.

As retained executive search experts, we work with clients every day to help them attract high-performance leaders to fill executive and C-level roles. Here are four questions every organization should ask when evaluating candidates as part of a succession planning process.

1. What kind of leader do they want to be and what responsibilities will they have at the organization?

Not all leadership roles require you to climb the corporate ladder. There are all kinds of leadership opportunities within an organization, and some might appeal to your candidates more than others. Do they want to be a hands-on people leader? Do they have a passion for leading strategy and business growth? Do they prefer leading projects over people? Start by understanding the kinds of leadership opportunities that excite your candidates and then look at the associated responsibilities and where the opportunities exist within the organization. They might be on the executive floor – but they might not be. Great organizations make room for all kinds of leaders and leadership opportunities.

2. Does their purpose and vision align with the goals of the organization?

Purpose is the fuel that drives culture and engagement. More and more, organizations and candidates alike are looking for alignment when it comes to personal and organizational purpose and goals; someone who’s personal and professional purpose aligns, is much more likely to be actively engaged with their role and the organization than someone who is working to support a purpose they aren’t passionate about. Understanding what drives your potential leaders, how they connect to the purpose and goals of the organization (today and in the future), and how they will support the organization in achieving its mission and goals, is an important part of ensuring you have the right people lined up to continue moving the company forward.

3. Do they have the skills and experience needed to be successful?

Assessing the candidate’s previous experience, ensuring they’re up-to-date on trends and best practices in the industry, and being able to demonstrate impact relevant to the role you’re looking to move them into are all important – and will help determine if now is the time to move them into a more senior role or if they need time to build experience in key areas.

And don’t underestimate the value of “soft skills” or people skills in your assessment! Are they a strong communicator? Do they lead with empathy and compassion? Are they a collaborative team player? Can they make tough decisions and adapt to new challenges and opportunities? Are they respected by their team members as a leader? Hiring committees and executive search professionals alike are prioritizing these types of skills when recruiting top talent, so it’s vital that any potential candidates can demonstrate a full spectrum of skills – technical and human.  

4. Are they ready for the demands of the role?

This is less about “can I do it” and more about understanding how the demands of the role align with their work-life balance needs. Everyone has different needs and expectations when it comes to their work and personal lives and post-COVID, many organizations have adopted a more flexible work environment, making it easier than ever to find the right balance. But being clear on the demands of a C-suite role and ensuring they do (or can) align with the candidate’s needs and expectations outside of work is key if you want to set the candidate and the organization up for success.

At Waterstone Human Capital, we work with companies every day to fill executive roles across a variety of industries – all across North America. Schedule a meeting with our team of experts today and find out how we can help you attract and retain high-performance talent who will help you drive growth and success.