Succession Planning – The Basics

We hear it all over the place, “succession plan”, it’s become buzz words that seem to light up the eyes of many managers, HR professionals and leaders in the business community. In fact I was shopping recently and actually overheard two retail staff discussing whether or not their organization even had a succession plan.

This topic has been one of great discussion and also seems to garner a variety of opinions. Recently a few people have asked me, “Colin, what exactly is succession planning, and do we really need it?” My answer, “it depends.” You see succession planning can look different depending on the organization you are in and to say if you “need” it would also depend on what your strategic plans are for the business. In light of that, I thought that I would share a few ideas about this topic.

What is it?

Succession planning in my opinion involves identifying key future human capital needs and developing the means to fill those roles from within the organization. I had an instructor who once described recruitment and selection as “the means to put the right people in the right place at the right time”. In my opinion this concept is also important to succession planning.

I mentioned earlier that knowing the strategic plan is vital to the development of this program. This is because without understanding where you want to go you won’t be able to plan how to get there. So, if you haven’t sat down to talk about the vision of the organization and come up with some notion of where you want to be; along with some measurable objectives, then I would suggest doing so. This is truly the foundation of developing most internal programs and processes that lead you towards success.

Once you have an understanding of the organization’s strategic plan then you will want to consider other aspects such as your existing workforce, forecasting future trends, and developing employees to fill your future needs as people leave or retire.

How is succession planning different than recruitment?

These days the terms recruitment and selection are sometimes used interchangeably with succession planning while in some organizations they choose to distinguish the two. My opinion is that recruitment and selection is part of the succession plan process. People aren’t born into an organization very often, so we can be assured most will recruit new hires somewhere along the line. The recruitment process is a great place to start looking for people who “fit” with the organization. As Jim Collins in Good to Great explains to us, it’s important to get the right people into your organization. If people already have the right values and attitudes to assist your organization in being successful; then the rest of the succession plan will ensure these people have opportunities to develop towards their career aspirations and grow a stronger and more productive business.

Why do organizations use succession plans?

With a growing population preparing for retirement many organizations are currently considering their options for filling these vacant positions. One organization I worked with recently evaluated their workforce and found that 50% of their staff was at the age of retirement within the next 3-5 years. Imagine half of your workforce leaving without a plan? This alone is reason enough for some organizations to consider succession planning.

At one time it was a method used specifically to replace high level positions like the CEO. Today succession planning is used beyond this to fill various critical roles within an organization. What’s a critical role? Well, in some companies it is the executive management team, in others it can also include key roles which without planning may be difficult to fill and if suddenly became vacant may have a significant impact on the business. This can be accomplished by developing existing talent within the organization to take on those roles should they become available. Remember though that it is wise for development plans to have a personal meaning to the staff as well.

Succession plans provide a means to drive higher levels of performance from your employees via higher levels of job satisfaction. Through their development they also assist in decreasing the costs associated with lost productivity when vacancies occur. This development also assists in making sure people aren’t “promoted to failure”. There are plenty of examples of when people are promoted due to their high level of technical expertise into leadership roles only to fail because they didn’t have the leadership skills required. Succession plans provide a clear understanding of the competencies required to further a career and a general guideline for managers to use while evaluating staff and determining their “readiness”.

So What’s the Basics of Succession Planning?

  • Evaluate your organization
  • Determine the key roles
  • Conclude what competencies are important in these roles
  • Recognize and evaluate candidates
  • Craft development plans
  • Evaluate and revise your plan

I hope this helps provide some clarity to those who were wondering what the purpose of a succession plan is, why it’s important and what basic concepts to consider when developing a plan.

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