Creating a succession plan: part 2

Dr Jana Matthews | 4 minute read | Succession Planning Pt 2: Creating success in succession planning.

In part one, we spoke about the importance of succession planning. Now, we will look at the four steps you need to take to develop a successful succession plan.

Assuming you have a strategic plan:

  • The first step in succession planning is to project when you will need people with certain kinds of knowledge and skills to execute this strategy.
  • Second, you need to assess which current employees could do those new jobs. And then decide how you will get them ready, as well as identify when new employees will need to be hired.
  • Third, you need to create management development plans for staff with management potential. This will give them the knowledge and skills required to continue growing the company.
  • Lastly, you need to decide when to recruit new people, and when to let current employees go.

1. A succession plan is part of strategic planning

Succession planning is not just about identifying the CEO’s “successor.” A succession plan should identify the full array of knowledge, skills, and resources needed to grow the company. It predicts the management roles and responsibilities that will be required over the next 3-5 years to implement the company’s strategic plan. So it needs to be developed in response to the “people requirements” of the strategic plan.

2. Assess current employees and develop them for future jobs

After identifying the future knowledge and skills required, the next step is to assess the knowledge and skills of current employees. Compare this to the competencies that are going to be needed. Determine what kinds of education, training and coaching will be required. This will get your employees ready for those new roles and responsibilities, within the required time frame. You also need to identify the knowledge and skill requirements that no one is likely to have. And make plans to recruit new people.

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3. Purposeful development of management knowledge and skills

Identifying the management roles and responsibilities needed for the future. Then make a list of every executive team member and key manager in your organisation. Ask yourself these questions. “If that person were to be promoted (or were to leave): What are our options for replacing them? Are there internal candidates who could step up? Step up with some training? Or will we have to go outside and recruit a replacement?”. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to implement management development plans for each key employee. Create a list of courses, workshops, secondments, and international business travel. It could be useful in getting them ready for the potential new roles you want them to play.

4. Decide whether to recruit new people, and let current employees go

Long term succession plan

Long-term succession planning favours internal candidates. They are a “known quantity”, have organisational knowledge, and believe in the company’s mission. The succession plan assumes:

  • that managers are already addressing employee performance issues
  • are ensuring that everyone in the company has the functional competencies to do their current job
  • are a good fit with the company’s values.

After identifying successor candidates, managers should give them a variety of tasks and roles to test them out. Then mentor them over a period of time. When the manager is promoted or leaves, the protégé should be ready to step into the manager’s shoes.

Rapid growth

A succession plan should recognise your rate of growth. You will need to hire new employees if you are growing rapidly and don’t have time to develop people. Or if you need people with particular knowledge and skills. Select people on the basis of functional competence and fit with your values. Then start them off right, delegate properly, and manage their performance closely. Your current employees’ performance is known. But your only data-points for new employees are their references and experiences in other companies, which may or may not set them up for success in your company. Past performance may be the best predictor of future performance. But it is definitely not a guarantee of success!

Reinforce values

The succession plan should reinforce your values. If you have a values issue with a manager who has left – regardless of whether that person “jumped” or “was pushed” – you may want to consider bringing in someone from the outside to “assess and shape up” that unit.  In the case of a sudden departure, weigh up the value of bringing in “new blood” against the time lost and disruption created by bringing in an outsider. Consider the pros and cons of providing accelerated coaching, training, and other support to enable a current employee to move into that role vs. hiring a new person in the role. And regardless of whether you are considering a current or new employee, think beyond your immediate needs. Consider future needs. And look for someone who can be promoted at least two levels beyond this current position.

Match employees with strategic direction

The succession plan should align with strategy. Review your strategic plan before doing performance reviews. Competition, new technology, and changing customer demands may require you to close offices, change marketing strategies, or stop manufacturing products. This means that you may need to let people go because your company no longer needs their particular skills and knowledge. If there are no other roles these employees can perform, you will need to terminate their employment. But do so with dignity and respect. Thank them for the past contributions they have made to your company.

Update your succession plan regularly

Your succession plan is designed to be a long-term employee plan, but it can also serve as an emergency back-up plan. So you should review your strategic plan and your succession plan at least twice a year. You can never predict when a key employee will take maternity leave, take another job, or when you yourself might have an accident or a health problem.

A succession plan that’s regularly updated helps future-proof your business. It reduces the risk to the company of not having the leaders it needs. And it enables your company to continue growing and be successful.

Original article published in and updated in September 2022.

Like this article? Try Succession Planning Pt 1: Creating success in succession planning


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