Five Things You Need to Know About Succession Planning

May 2013

Recently, we've taken on a few search assignments when there was no apparent internal candidate ready, willing and/or able to assume the role. One wonders if better succession planning might have negated the need to retain us to conduct a search. In this communique, we discuss the five things you need to know about Succession Planning.

baton1. What is Succession Planning?

Developing 'bench strength', or a cadre of high potential employees to assume future increasingly senior roles is a simple definition of succession planning. Most organizations have at least an informal way of identifying these key players, but that’s where the process often ends. At its best, succession planning not only identifies these high potential employees, but has development plans for each one put in place (aligned with business needs, opportunities and dynamics, of course) and that are communicated to the employee in question.

2. Why is it Important?

Having a succession strategy in place serves the following purposes:

  • It addresses current and potential business needs, and manages risk by ensuring that there are qualified and motivated employees on board to assume critical roles which broaden their experience. These roles need not always represent a promotion. Some lateral moves serve to expand one's experience, making the employee more qualified to take on more senior roles down the road.
  • It builds loyalty to the organization; employees feel valued.
  • It contributes to an organization’s external reputation, helping to attract high potential employees.
  • It lessens the reliance on recruiting to fill key roles.

3. What Can go Wrong?

  • Lack of communication – the high potential employee should be advised that he/she is being considered for expanded roles. If not, this employee may depart the firm, as she was not aware that there were future opportunities ahead.
  • Alternatively, perhaps the high-potential employee isn't really motivated to advance, and we shouldn't be banking on that individual to fill a future need.
  • At times, business conditions don’t create learning opportunities, and high-potential employees may depart for new challenges, even if they are part of a succession planning process.
  • The size of the organization may not permit employees to take on developmental roles.
  • There are no funds for outside courses, assessments, etc.

4. Who Owns the Succession Planning Mandate?

  • At the CEO level, the Board is responsible for driving the process.
  • At the middle and senior management level, while HR can facilitate the process, it needs to be supported and driven by the CEO.

5. What’s Next?

Ensure the following:

  • High potential talent is identified at all levels in the organization.
  • Those designated as high potential share in your ambition for them.
  • Learning gaps are identified.
  • A development program for each such employee is developed that aligns with business strategy.