The challenges of the last five or so years have left many organizations picking up the pieces as they try to fill skills gaps and vacancies for critical roles.

This often happens because organizations haven’t planned continuity through succession planning, a critical practice that helps build resiliency and ensure that there’s always somebody ready to step into roles as they become vacant.


What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a process that organizations rely on to ensure that they’ve got a continuous supply of highly skilled and capable employees ready to assume key roles.

It’s not just about having a replacement ready, though. Robust succession planning fosters a culture where growth, development, and future planning are integral to the organization’s DNA. It involves carefully evaluating the organization’s long-term goals and the competencies that future leaders will need to achieve them.

At the core of succession planning is the task of identifying potential leaders within the organization and nurturing their development through targeted training, mentorship, and experience in various roles. This proactive nurturing helps create a seamless transition when a key position opens up, ensuring that the organization continues to operate effectively without significant interruptions.


Succession Planning Benefits

Robust succession planning can deliver many tangible benefits for organizations, including:

  • Uninterrupted functioning and stability in key leadership roles.
  • Fosters professional growth and skill enhancement for the best talent.
  • Reduces the risk associated with sudden vacancies.
  • Aligns employee development with organizational needs and goals.
  • Increases retention by providing clear progression paths.
  • Promotes a culture of high performance through ongoing development.
  • Enhances an organization’s ability to adapt to market changes.

Although no organization can ever fully prepare itself for the future, organizations that continuously assess their leadership pipelines are more likely to be able to weather internal and external changes. That’s why succession planning is critical for reducing risk and enabling long-term success.


5 Steps for Robust Succession Planning

Succession planning requires careful planning and execution. While there is no right or wrong way to build a succession plan, a methodical approach will always be your best bet.


1. Identifying Key Positions and Skills

The first step is to identify critical organizational positions that are essential to its operations and long-term success. This involves pinpointing the crucial roles and understanding the specific skills, experiences, and competencies required for each role. Organizations should evaluate their current talent pool against these criteria to identify gaps and future needs. This assessment helps pinpoint the specific areas where the organization should focus its succession efforts and training resources.

In addition to identifying key roles, organizations must also consider the future direction of the business. This means understanding how industry trends and changes might impact the skills and competencies needed in the future. This approach ensures that the succession planning process remains dynamic and aligned with the organization’s evolving needs, preparing it not just for current gaps but for future challenges as well.


2. Identifying Talent

Once the key positions are identified, the next step is to assess the existing workforce to identify employees with the potential to fill these roles. This involves a thorough evaluation of employees’ current performance, their strengths, weaknesses, and their future potential. Tools such as performance appraisals, 360-degree feedback, and psychological assessments can be used to understand each employee’s capabilities and development needs comprehensively.

It’s crucial in this stage to maintain objectivity and look beyond the current performance, focusing on the employee’s potential to grow and take on more complex roles. Organizations should also consider the employee’s aspirations and career goals to ensure alignment with the organization’s needs.


3. Training and Development

Once potential successors are identified, the organization must invest in their development. This involves creating individualized development plans that may include a mix of on-the-job training, mentorship, coaching, and formal education. The aim is to provide these employees with the experiences and skills they need to be ready to step into their future roles.

Development plans should be closely aligned with the specific requirements of the key positions identified earlier. This means that if a role requires strong leadership skills, the development plan should focus on opportunities to lead projects or teams. Regular reviews and updates to these development plans are crucial to ensure they remain relevant and effective in preparing employees for their future roles.


4. Succession Management and Monitoring

Effective succession planning is a continuous process. It involves regularly reviewing and updating the succession plan to account for organizational changes, such as strategic shifts, retirements, or unexpected departures. This step ensures that the organization always has an up-to-date plan and a talent pipeline ready to fill key positions.

Organizations should also monitor the progress of high-potential employees to ensure they are developing as expected. This can involve regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and adjustments to development plans as necessary. Succession management should be integral to the organization’s broader talent management strategy, ensuring a holistic approach to developing and retaining key talent.


5. Transition Management

The final step is managing the transition when a successor is ready for a key role. This involves the logistical aspects of the role change and ensuring the successor has the support they need to succeed in their new position. This can include continued coaching, integration with the new team, and setting clear expectations and goals.

Effective transition management also involves addressing the impact of this change on the rest of the organization. This might mean managing the expectations of other employees, particularly if they were also candidates for the role, and ensuring the overall stability and morale within the organization.