What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning helps organizations prepare for transition in leadership and puts structures in place to develop skills and competencies in employees.  It is estimated that just over 54% of organizations have a succession plan in place for senior leadership replacement.

According to Wikipedia, “Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.”

Organizations use succession planning to forecast the supply and demand of talent for key positions.  This is done by assessing the competency mix of knowledge and skill.  This is achieved by increasing employee training as defined by competency assessments.

In order for succession planning to be successful, there needs to be a formal process with policies and procedures and an ongoing assessment of employees and their readiness for advancement within the organization.

6  Keys to Successful Succession Planning

1.  Focus

Organizations need to make succession planning a priority and commit the necessary time and resources to focusing and anticipating leadership transitions.  Focus should be on identifying which employees have the required skills and competencies and creating a detailed and specific developmental plan.

2.  Time

There is a time commitment in successful succession planning initiatives.  Succession planning needs to be a priority and should be part of a business strategy.  Time should be allocated to senior management discussions to ensure the organization is ready for a leadership transition.

3.  Talent Management Process

succession planningThere should be a defined and specific talent management process that would include identification of skills and aptitudes needed to perform job responsibilities.

For example, if the position requires a high level of emotional intelligence, the candidate may need testing and development of that competency.  There should also be discussions identifying potential individual talent and discussing strengths, weaknesses, skills, experience and developmental needs.

These kinds of developmental plans should be incorporated into a structured performance management process.  This process would include targeted employee development by increasing employee responsibilities and focused mentoring and coaching.

4.  Benchmark Talent

Transitioning a high level leader also requires benchmarking the skill sets of other leaders in the marketplace.  It is important to benchmark the skills and talents of other similar positions to make sure the in-house talent pool is competitive.

5.  Transition Plan

Transitioning leadership is always a challenge.  Organizations should have processes in place to help orient the employee to the new job.  This process can minimize the downtime associated with leadership transitions and can help the employee hit the ground running.

6.  Database

Organizations should develop a database that tracks and follows employee skill development.  Having access to this database can help facilitate candidate conversations.

Mistakes Organizations Make

  • Not paying attention to the potential leaders within the organization and being unprepared for a leadership transition.
  • Not having an ongoing process to assess the talent and skill set needed to be successful in leadership positions.
  • Failing to communicate an organization’s plan and desire to promote and develop potential leaders.  This lack of communication often leaves strong candidates seeking advancement and employment with other organizations.
  • Not investing the time to mentor and coach potential leaders.
  • Not providing developmental opportunities and experiences for employees.
  • Not having senior leadership buy-in to the succession planning process.

A strong succession planning process improves employee engagement, commitment and retention.  It also helps with the challenge of talent recruitment and ever increasing recruitment costs.

photo courtesy:  CFO CP

This article was originally published December 2010, updated January 2014.


  1. […] things.  First it tells the employee that you recognize their efforts but it also is a step in the succession planning and development […]

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