Succession Planning Should Include Development of Entry-Level Talent: Interview With Kelly Renz #SHRM18


Succession planning often focuses on executive roles only, but as Kelly Renz of The Novo Group says, “that’s missing the boat.” I caught up with Renz, who is CEO of The Novo Group, where they believe better people means better business. She claims to be a non-conformist when it comes to business practices and she’ll be a speaker at the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, presenting “Demystifying Succession Planning: It’s Easier Than You Think!” She insists that succession planning is not rocket science and has great insight into the importance of developing your entry-level talent.

Key indicators that show leadership potential in an entry-level employee

Overall, says Renz, managers should be looking out for individuals who initiate additional responsibility. You want to identify people who are “looking to fill gaps.” People with leadership potential have ideas, and share insights and observations of how things could improve. “That’s a good indication that somebody is engaged and they care, and they want to see something done better.” They might come up with more bad ideas than good ideas, but that is okay. Managers should not see these employees as rocking the boat but instead they should welcome conversations about their ideas.

For quieter employees who don’t vocalize their ideas as much, managers should invite them to spaces where they can draw their ideas out in a more comfortable environment. They will step forward, says Renz. “Sometimes the quietest minds are the best minds for opportunity.” Introverted employees might be more focused on customer satisfaction or team feedback, and that could be an indication that they want to go above and beyond. “You’re looking for an employee who has a continuous improvement mindset,” says Renz.


Employees often get promoted because they are vocal and know which relationships to build, not necessarily because they make good leaders. How can organizations avoid this pattern?

If managers hear from a team member that he or she wants to discuss their professional development, they should take that as a cue to be proactive and set up similar meetings for all team members. Talent conversations often get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, says Renz, but she insists they should be a priority.

Vocal employees are not the only ones who want to be developed. Managers should be proactive about giving quieter employees the space and time to have these career development conversations. No one should have to be loud or extroverted to be developed into an effective leader.

Renz likes the trend of providing more constant feedback, as opposed to waiting for an annual performance review. Especially for new hires, managers should make sure to discuss development after several months on the job. Feedback that is specifically around helping individuals get to the next level is important.

“The best managers out there have a natural desire to regularly connect with their employees on talent development,” says Renz.

How can succession planning balance the focus on key roles with a focus on top performers?

Succession planning often becomes an executive only program, but “that’s missing the boat of what succession planning should be achieving,” says Renz. To profile your organization, she says you don’t need expensive tools. First, inventory the positions in your organization to identify key roles.

“Key roles should fuel the focus for succession planning,” says Renz. “They can be executive roles, but we define them as roles that, when vacated, could cause a significant business disruption or pain. It could be something that hampers a client relationship.” It could be a key account salesperson who owns the relationship to your organization’s largest client. It could be your data scientist who owns the methodology and mindset for a formula. Renz warns employers against identifying a standard percentage of roles across organizations as key roles. “Key roles are unique for each company.” Make a map of your key roles, and start your succession planning from there.



As you look at the talent you currently have, you might have to change your language, says Renz. Instead of working to identify individuals with “high potential” (which implies that others have low potential and can have a negative impact), work to identify people with “early promise.” Create profiles of these individuals with early promise. Now, integrate your map of key roles with your profiles of early promise and identify gaps. Renz advises employers to ask themselves, “What are the gaps in skill set, knowledge and ability that we need to fill?”  That’s where good leadership development comes in.

How to fill a leadership pipeline with more diverse talent

“Diversity and inclusion does not happen by accident,” and you can’t make recruiters entirely accountable for it, says Renz. She likes to see organizations really leverage their affinity programs. Organizations that developed affinity programs and champion their differences are the ones that succeed in filling their leadership pipeline with diversity.

It is critical to make diversity part of executive goals and accountability, tying in compensation, says Renz. If it’s treated as a true strategic initiative, and even given extra purposeful attention, organizations will be more likely to succeed in reaching their diversity and inclusion goals.  

Despite less loyalty overall, succession planning is still worth it 

Renz knows the statistics. People change jobs more often than they used to. However, she says, “if you keep somebody challenged and you keep somebody moving through their career, and they’re enjoying where they are and are tied to your purpose, they still won’t leave.”

It’s too easy to shrug and attribute turnover to a change in generational attitudes, Renz claims. “Most people don’t leave for no reason.” Big reasons for turnover include bad managers, or not feeling connected to the organization. It’s important to inspect why you have turnover, not assume general trends apply to your organization. Your mission has become more and more important to retaining talent. If your people believe in your mission, that is more likely to retain employees than it ever has before.


Succession planning is still worth it, says Renz. “If you identify talent early in their career and you put them on a development plan, and they can see on the horizon what they’re working toward,” they will continue to commit. The number one reason people leave is that they don’t see a career path forward, she says. Create the cultural expectation that you will invest in your people. Succession planning, to have worth, has to be progressive and ongoing.  


Originally posted on College Recruiter blog.



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