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Succession planning is a complicated process that even the largest of organizations have a hard time articulating. Boiled down, succession planning is the process of identifying and developing employees to prepare them for increasingly advanced roles within the organization.

SHRM summarizes it nicely: it is a “focused process for keeping talent in the pipeline” by “identifying crucial job skills, knowledge, social relationships and organizational practices and passing them on to prepare the next generation of workers, thereby ensuring the seamless movement of talent within the organization.”

A complete strategy for succession planning involves many components, from training and development to career planning and skills analysis. This is not a simple process, and it involves buy-in from every level of the organization. However, when evaluating the role that pre-employment assessments can play in succession planning, this blog post will look specifically at the process for identifying the skills and abilities of your current workforce. This process enables you to identify the internal candidates who have the greatest potential for certain roles within the organization.

Assessments can guide your decision-making by identifying the following characteristics in your current employees:


One of the most critical components for determining an employee’s potential is their trainability. Trainability represents a person’s ability to learn quickly and pick up new skills successfully.

One of the key underlying components of trainability comes from cognitive aptitude. Cognitive aptitude, also called cognitive ability or general intelligence, refers to a person’s ability to think critically, solve problems, and digest and apply new information. A lot of this has to do with general brainpower, but it also has as much to do with learning ability.

Continuous research from Industrial-Organizational Psychology has demonstrated that cognitive aptitude is one of the most effective factors at predicting job performance, far more predictive than a person’s job experience or the quality of their interview. Even more interestingly: cognitive aptitude is predictive of job performance across every job level, from entry level to C-suite.

Trainability is essential for succession planning because any employee that you seek to train and development for leadership roles needs to be able to learn new skills and to be adaptable. Assessments can evaluate a person’s trainability and provide a reliable prediction of how well they will be able to take on this challenge.

Personality Fit

Personality fit is really dependent on the specific role, since different types of jobs have different personalities that are most associated with success. Personality assessments enable you to see how each employee’s personality aligns with the day-to-day challenges of a wide variety of roles. This is especially true with general personality inventories that assess employees based on the core traits that are scientifically established within the I/O psychology community.

Certain traits are predictive of certain types of roles. For example, if you are interested in developing employees for manager roles, it makes sense to evaluate candidates based on their assertiveness and cooperativeness. If you want to promote people into advanced business development roles or roles that involve complex deal-making, you’ll likely want to assess the candidates’ extroversion and goal-orientation.

When using personality fit to assess an employee’s potential, it should be used to direct, rather than exclude, that employee from a line of work. If an employee expresses a strong interest in a career path that does not necessarily align with their personality profile, the insight gained from their profile can simply be used to identify strengths and areas of weakness. What this means is that the employee may need to put in a little extra effort to step outside of their comfort zone in order to succeed in that role. Assessments help to highlight those areas of opportunity and suggest areas for improvement.

Leadership Ability

One specific personality trait that is often particularly useful for succession planning is leadership ability. While leadership ability can be difficult to measure, and can certainly be honed over time, personality assessments can help to highlight employees who have leadership potential. Typically, succession planning is designed to develop future leaders in the organization, which is why leadership ability can be so useful.

One of the biggest benefits of using assessments is that it helps you identify employees who have a lot of potential for future roles, but who you may have overlooked. Promotion opportunities can often be subject to bias – managers unintentionally select their “favorite” employees for promotion, regardless of whether they are the best for the job. Assessments add an objective element to the succession planning process, by highlighting employees who may have the right qualities but have never been afforded the opportunity.

Whether assessments are used in a pre-employment capacity, or if they are given during an employee’s tenure, they provide insight into your employees’ capabilities that can guide your entire talent management strategy.

 “The Role of Assessments in Succession Planning” CriteriaCorp, Michelle Silverstein, January 20, 2020.