HR Management & Compliance

8 Succession Planning Fundamentals

Succession planning allows companies to not only retain key talent, but also to have someone at the ready when a critical position becomes vacant. This helps ensure smooth transitions and minimal disruption to business, all while retaining more of your high performers.

Each organization faces unique challenges in succession planning. There’s no universally-applicable succession planning formula or strategy. To be effective in succession planning, the organization needs to understand its circumstances and any unique challenges that it faces. That said, there are still some fundamental issues that everyone must tackle. Here are 8 fundamental steps in the succession planning process:

  1. Buy-in from the executives. “In order to build a robust, successful succession planning process, it has to be simple [and] realistic enough for leaders to willingly engage and participate.” Mary Anne Kennedy told us in a recent BLR webinar. For employees, the same principles apply along with a clear understanding of the expectations and the process.
  2. Identify key roles for succession planning. What are the critical roles? Who are you likely to lose? Where do these two answers overlap?
  3. Define the competences and motivational profiles required for these roles.
  4. Identify those with the potential to assume greater responsibility.
  5. Engage leadership in supporting the development of high potential employees. “Do the current organizational managers and leaders understand the importance of succession planning? And support succession planning efforts?” Kennedy noted these are key questions in the process.
  6. Utilize a leadership development format for the annual or bi-annual review of all managers, highlighting those who have performed at a higher level. Ensure that the organization has ongoing procedures in place to ensure that the succession plans are revisited periodically, and are adapted to change in the workforce.
  7. Develop a database to showcase “ready now” candidates. This is the list of candidates ready to move into the next role.
  8. Develop a job matrix for key positions in order to clearly identify feeder positions.

With these fundamentals to get you started, you’ll be well on your way to developing a robust succession planning program. Here are some final tips for success:

  • Don’t wait until key talent decides to resign. Start the planning now.
  • Utilize the policies, procedures and practices that are already established in your organization, but don’t develop the program based on the personalities in the mix. It needs to be about the work.
  • Succession planning is a responsibility of management, not just the employee. It is a partnership.
  • Be sure to recognize good behaviors and give them equal weight to results in the program. It is not just what the potential key leader does but how he/she does it.
  • Communicate clearly, timely and effectively.
  • Seek feedback about the program from leaders and employees.

For more information on the fundamentals of succession planning, order the webinar recording of “Succession Planning and Cross-Training Summit: Groom Your Current Employees for Future Success.” To register for a future webinar, visit

Mary Anne Kennedy is the principal consultant at MAKHR Consulting, LLC, a full-service human resources advisory firm. MAKHR Consulting provides the full spectrum of HR services and programs, including all aspects of talent acquisition – from the full cycle recruitment process to succession planning and performance management.

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