How to Master Succession Planning

In its simplest form, succession planning is the strategy for finding suitable people to replace important executives in an organization when current executives leave or retire.  To fulfill this definition, it seems all a company needs to do is wait until a vacancy occurs, and then go out and find a suitable substitute to fill the vacancy.  While this rather simplistic definition seems easy to attain, and it seems to fit rather nicely into most company’s directives, it often falls short of the totality of what succession planning really entails.

Perhaps a more complete definition of succession planning might be: a continuous process for identifying, hiring, and developing internal people who possess the potential to fill key business leadership roles within an organization.  With this definition you can see several differences.

  1. It’s a continuous process.
  2. This definition speaks to not only identifying, but also developing potential candidates for filling key leadership roles within the organization.
  3. The most important difference is the focus on internal people within the organization who could move up the chain and take on greater and greater responsibilities.

Once the succession plan is drawn up, it should be followed up immediately with what many experts call “succession development.”  Once you have the plan in place, you have to actually implement or execute it.  Executives must decide who has and who does not have the potential to move up in the company and take on higher and higher levels of responsibilities.  Once these individuals are identified, then the organization must do whatever needs to be done to properly train, prepare, and mentor those individuals who are selected for advancement.

Answer the following questions to see if you or your organization needs succession planning:

  • How critical is your job to the organization?
  • Are you what your organization calls a key or essential person?
  • If you were hit by a bus, would your organization be able to survive without missing a beat?
  • Does your position require a scarce or specialized skill for your organization to continue to function?
  • Does your position have a critical effect over operations or mission success?
  • Are you and your organization ready for the next big economic leap?

By answering these few questions, you will probably notice (and it should be obvious) that you need succession planning.  As a minimum you probably need to seriously think about it.  Worse yet, if you haven’t started thinking about the need before, you need to start thinking about it now and probably discussing it with others in your organization.