succession planningThe head and executives of any organization are always running through “what if” scenarios. What if something goes wrong? What if our CEO becomes ill? What if we are forced to find new executives on short notice? They aren’t pleasant scenarios to think about but it is always best to have a plan in place, ready to execute, should an unexpected event arise that leaves an opening.

A lot can happen in a company, including unrest, low morale, and uncertainty among the ranks, when executives unexpectedly leave an organization. It can be chaotic and difficult to deal with without having a succession planning strategy in place ahead of time. Life happens, there is no way around that.

All organizations that are even large enough to have a c-suite should take succession planning seriously. There are a few basic steps that any company can take to improve their succession strategy and be prepared to act in the unlikely event that an executive has to leave for one reason or another.

What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is simply having a plan in place, ready to execute, should one of your executives decide to leave the company in either a planned absence or unexpectedly (such as due to health reasons or a family matter). Unexpected departures don’t happen often, but they do happen enough that all companies should plan for them. Succession planning ensures that no significant expertise and leadership is lost in the event that one of your executives has to leave.

Succession planning involves a few different step. The first and most pertinent step is to identify your high-potential employees. Who would be a good fit for your organization? Who is ready to be groomed for leadership roles in the event that a position opens up? Who would the rest of your company nominate if they could, and who would they stand behind throughout the process? Understanding these questions is critical for proper succession planning and putting your company in the best possible position for ongoing success.

Why Succession Planning is So Important

An executive leaving their position without notice can be catastrophic if you don’t have a plan in place. Both expected and unexpected departures of senior staff can reverberate throughout your ranks and put certain aspects of your business in turmoil.

You must make sure that you have a person (or list of people) that are qualified to fill each position should it become vacant. This can include current employees, past employees, or even outside individuals that you think would be a good fit. Having a training plan in place to evaluate and nurture their skills ahead of time is also important.

Diversification is a big benefit of succession planning. Bringing new employees into the fold with unique perspectives can help a transition to seem naturally and even beneficial during stressful times.

Look Internally at Performance and Potential

When you are putting together your succession planning strategy, start by looking internally. What candidates are the best choice within your organization? Look at the highest ranking and top performing employees to see who already possesses the natural skills that a c-level employee would require.

Take a look at your org chart and see who might be the best fit within a step or two of the position that you would like to fill. Who would have the support not only of executives, but of the lower level employees within your organization as well?

Make sure that you have a solid process in place for evaluating talent internally. Being high performing isn’t the only consideration when it comes to putting together a succession plan. You may have other employees that are currently performing at a lower level that would really benefit from a training plan and end up being a better choice for the position in the long-term. Current performance isn’t always the best indicator of future performance. Potential is another consideration when you are trying to find the right person for a very senior position.

Determine Whether Someone Outside your Company Might Be Ideal


While it might not be the most popular choice among your current employees, your focus always has to be on choosing the best person for the job and doing what is right for the company. Sometimes, you may not have a good fit for the position internally and instead would be better suited to opt for looking outside your company at potential candidates.

This can be tricky because it is typically done at the last minute, which doesn’t give companies a lot of time to evaluate all options and can lead to less-than-ideal hires for these high-level positions. You can put together an agreement with someone ahead of time that, if the position did become open, they would be willing to consider making the move. However, there is no guarantee that they will be willing to leave their current situation when the time arises.

Ensure Your HR Team Has Leaderships Support

When you execute a succession planning strategy, it is important that your current c-level leadership is unified in the choices that you have made. Other departments within the company have to buy-in as well for a smooth transition. Without a buy-in from the top down, moving forward can be extremely difficult. HR plays a large role in any succession planning strategy, as education and training play a key role in any large scale transition.

Make sure that you work closely with your HR department to put together a plan for them to execute once the change has been announced. Giving your HR team a deeper understanding of the move and why it was made will help them to make decisions that make sense for them as well.

Collaboration is key in executing a succession plan. Make sure that you are working with all relevant parties to design and execute a plan that puts your company in the best possible position to deal with an unexpected departure and seamlessly integrate a new person into the position.

Plan Ahead for Seamless Transitions

The best thing that any company can do to deal with a departure of a senior member of their company is to plan ahead. Have a plan in place for each of the major c-level positions within your company. With a plan in place, you can begin executing the plan the moment that the vacancy becomes known. By looking for suitable replacements both internally and externally and empowering your HR team, you put yourself in position to seamlessly transition during unexpected departures.