HR Management & Compliance

What is a Succession Plan and Why Should You Have One?

Succession planning is an often-overlooked yet important aspect of talent management. What happens when a high-performing employee, or even an executive, leaves the company? Who moves into that role? What is lost during the transition when no one is in line to move immediately into place?

This is the rationale for succession planning – to have someone in place and make that a smooth transition. Succession planning is “the process where organizations recruit and develop key talent to fill roles within the company beyond the position they are originally hired to perform.” Mary Anne Kennedy told us in a recent BLR webinar.

There are two sides to succession planning – planning for who will fill roles when key players move on, and future planning for the career path of high potential employees. Naturally, these two aspects go hand-in-hand.

The Succession Planning Process

Succession planning allows a company to recruit for a long term career path, not just for the first role—which in turn allows key positions to be filled quickly when they become vacant.

“Succession planning also identifies and develops your internal talent with the potential to fill key leadership roles.” Kennedy confirmed. It starts with recruiting talent with the ability to advance, then developing their knowledge and creating a path for advancement or promotion.

“An active succession planning process ensures that leaders are working the succession planning system, developing their team members with a consciousness about future positions for each team member on a regular basis.” Kennedy advised.

Why is Succession Planning Beneficial?

Why should an employer implement succession plans? What is the benefit of succession planning?

“A well-designed succession planning process increases retention of top talent because they recognize that time and attention is being invested in them for the purpose of career development.” Kennedy explained.

In an ideal scenario, HR would apply the 80/20 rule to top performers and thus spend 80 percent of their time with your high performers. Often HR does the opposite, being forced to focus on poor performers. This creates an imbalance and can lead to higher turnover when top talent doesn’t feel appreciated.

Conversely, when top talent feel challenged and rewarded, their desire to seek opportunities outside their current employer diminishes, thus reducing turnover. Succession planning can play a large role in this turnaround by investing in individuals from the beginning.

And the time to start is now. A mistake organizations make is to wait until top talent walks out the door before discovering the importance of engaging, developing and communicating a robust succession planning process.

“Developing leadership talent is a long-term investment, one that cannot be measured immediately. A working succession planning system results in having more than one ‘Ready Now’ candidate for any critical position.” Kennedy told us. It represents an investment in your employees and returns dividends to the employer later in the form of retention—yet still ensures you’re prepared when someone leaves.

For more information on 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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