5 Succession Planning Best Practices for Millennials

By: on June 9, 2016

Unless you’ve been living under a considerably large rock for the past decade, you’ve heard about millennials: the group of people born between the early 1980s and 2000 that now make up more of the U.S. workforce than any other generation.

Every organization is scrambling to figure out how to crack this cohort’s code. How do we sell to them? Provide them with customer service? Ensure they don’t bring our entire organization down from within?

Let’s peer into the crystal ball for a moment. Sooner than you think (if it hasn’t happened already) these millennials will be your managers, your C-suite, even your CEO.

If you don’t have a proper succession planning process to identify and groom them for leadership positions, a grim future surely awaits.

“Organizations that identify talent throughout their organization are way ahead of the curve. They have less turbulence in their company and great retention, which helps serve customers better and create more value for shareholders.”

Kate Kohler, principal at executive search consultancy Korn Ferry

To help, here are five succession planning best practices to prepare your organization for its millennial-led future.

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

Introduction: The Good and Bad of Millennial Succession Planning
Best Practice #1: Meet Them in the Middle, Role-Wise
Best Practice #2: Drop the “Annual” from Annual Performance Reviews
Best Practice #3: Single Out the Succession Six
Best Practice #4: Invest in Leadership Development
Best Practice #5: Realize We’re Not So Different After All
Next Steps

Introduction: The Good and Bad of Millennial Succession Planning

If you’re having trouble separating fact from fiction when it comes to millennials, don’t feel bad. There’s a lot of noise online from thought leaders and big media alike as to what millennials are and aren’t, what they want and don’t want.

Even Googling “millennials are” can lead to confusion. They’re lazy but also … not?

These are real suggestions. Try it for yourself!


Legitimate research has produced two findings that show the unique opportunity—and the unique challenge—organizations have when it comes to grooming millennial leadership.

The good news? Your millennials want to be leaders. The bad news? They’re not going to wait around for it to happen.

The Good and Bad of Millennial Succession Planning
“We are hearing hiring managers share anecdotally that a millennial employee will come to work on their first day as an analyst or an associate and say, ‘I’m ready to be CEO’,” Kohler says.

“That’s the push. The pull is that [millennials] don’t have an expectation that they’re going to stay at that company for 20 or 30 years to become the CEO.”

Call it ambition, impatience or both, but gone are the days of rank-and-file workers quietly waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Organizations must act quickly to engage millennial workers in leadership grooming processes or risk having them leave for (seemingly) greener pastures.

Here are five best practices to help you do just that.

Best Practice #1: Meet Them in the Middle, Role-Wise

Stagnation can be a millennial engagement and retention killer. If your younger workers are having to wait five years to jump to the next rung on the ladder, you could see the best candidates for the position walk out the door before an opportunity opens up.

To combat this, Kohler has seen Korn Ferry clients insert more intermediate levels within a role to give millennial employees faster promotions and a greater sense of trajectory to their career.

Instead of just having a vice president, you might add new roles for junior and senior vice presidents, for example.

Example Internal Career Path With and Without Intermediate Roles
Even if these small steps only represent a title change and slight pay bump, they could be just the thing your high potential employees need to feel recognized, which could pay significant dividends in terms of retention.

Just ensure these intermediate levels add actual value to the organization; otherwise you’ll be bogged down by unneeded bureaucracy.

Best Practice #2: Drop the ‘Annual’ From Annual Performance Reviews

According to a survey of millennials conducted by HR software vendor TriNet, 69 percent see their company’s performance review process as flawed.

When asked what would improve it, the answer was clear:

Eighty-five percent of millennials want to have performance conversations with their manager more frequently.

If your managers are only checking in on workers’ performance once a year, you’re already behind the curve.

“Instead of having an annual review, [organizations] may have a monthly or quarterly review process where they go over projects and benchmarks in order to give feedback more often,” Kohler says.

Results vs. values performance review in Threads Culture

This is easier said than done, but performance review applications can send automatic reminders and present performance trends for workers over time to let you know who may need more monitoring than others.

Not only does this allow millennial workers to receive the more frequent feedback they desire, it also gives you more comprehensive and up-to-date performance data to better identify future leaders.

Best Practice #3: Single Out the Succession Six

According to Kohler and Korn Ferry, there are likely six successor CEOs in your organization right now—workers that possess the mix of skill, experience and culture fit necessary to become head honcho.

More than likely, a couple of these employees work right under the CEO. But, there may also be somebody who started today as an entry-level coder who would be a great CEO someday.

Identifying these six successors from the top of your organization down is key to the future of your company, but why stop there? As mentioned above, two out of three millennials expect to leave their organization by 2020.

Build a pipeline of talent for a number of key leadership positions to ensure that gaps are adequately covered, should high-potential workers exit the firm.

Succession planning org chart in TalentGuard

Using performance data integrated with a succession planning solution, you can identify and track a pipeline of employees that are ready to enter important leadership roles now, as well as those that hold a lot of potential.

You can even take a worker’s likelihood of staying with the organization into account in your pipeline decisions. If your top prospect unexpectedly leaves—which does happen—you have five more waiting in the wings.

Best Practice #4: Invest in Leadership Development

Having succession planning best practices in place are important, but without associated action, they’re useless. Once you have a grasp on who your potential millennial successors are, invest heavily in leadership development to prepare them for the position and better engage them in their work.

Competency gaps in Halogen TalentSpace

Integrating performance appraisal and succession planning applications together can help you identify future leaders.

Throw in learning management capabilities, and you’ll be able to use your workers’ competency gaps (measured subjectively or through assessments) to create tailored e-learning curriculums and develop leadership skills that may be lacking.

Though you may need to develop courses yourself to hone proprietary practices, many resources such as Lynda.com and BizLibrary have premade leadership training courses that you can reuse again and again.

Best Practice #5: Realize We’re Not So Different After All

It’s time to confess: I’m a millennial. If reading that sentence is enough for you to lump me in with the rest of my lazy—but not lazy—generation, you could be making the same mistake with your employees.

Though research can identify general trends, remember that the millennials in your organization aren’t a one-size-fits-all group, but a set of individuals with wildly different needs and goals.

“When you hear these terms about ‘millennials are all this way,’ or some other wholesale generalities, it’s really a red flag,” Kohler says.

“You may be fulfilling a bias when you’re making a hiring or leadership decision. I would be more prepared to think critically about a person as an individual, as opposed to one part of a generation.”

I’m an individual, but I do apologize on behalf of my generation for selfies. Our bad.


Take time to listen to your millennial workers, and you might learn the big dirty secret that Time magazine isn’t telling you: They’re more similar to other generations than you may think.

“We’re not finding a tremendous difference in what millennials desires are versus other generations,” Kohler says. “If you want to ask—what do these millennials want?—they want their manager, their supervisor, their CEO to take time and listen to what they have to say.”

Next Steps

With these best practices in mind, you’ll be able to prepare key leadership positions in your organization for millennials, Generation Z and beyond. Succession planning can be a painful task, though, without the right software solution. Here’s what you should do next:

  • Check out our talent management system page. These platforms can feature integrated performance management, learning management and succession planning to make organization a cinch. Read reviews, compare pricing and more.
  • Connect with a software advisor. Fill out a simple form about your business here and we’ll connect you with an expert software advisor to actually recommend great products for you based on your needs, for free.

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