6 steps of succession planning

The absence of a succession plan has the potential to undermine your organisation's effectiveness and its sustainability.

Have you ever asked yourself what would happen to your organisation if the current CEO suddenly left? Do you have plans to find a suitable, competent replacement? Will you have to recruit externally to fill the role and, if so, do you know the skills and expertise required to fill that critical role? If you do not have the answers to these questions, then this article may be just what you need to start thinking about succession planning, which is an essential component of any organisation’s talent management strategy.

Researchers and HR experts alike believe that succession isn’t all about predicting the future or even being prepared for it. Instead, it is about creating a future that the organisation wants and needs. The succession planning process identifies and develops employees who can replace “older” employees in strategic and critical roles within an organisation when they eventually leave. 

There are many benefits to implementing succession planning in your organisation, some of which I’ve outlined below:

  • It ensures that your organisation is prepared to support service continuity when critical staff members leave.
  • It allows for a continuing supply of qualified and motivated people (or at the very least a process to identify these individuals), who are prepared to take over when key employees leave.
  • It creates an alignment between your organisation's vision and your human resources, which demonstrates an understanding of the need to have appropriate staffing to achieve the strategic plans of your organisation.
  • It shows your commitment to developing the careers for your employees, which will facilitate your organisation's ability to both recruit and retain top-performers and at the same time, gain an external reputation as an organisation that invests in its people and provides opportunities for advancement.
  • It lets your employees know that they are valuable to the organisation

The absence of a succession plan has the potential to undermine your organisation's effectiveness and its sustainability. Without it, your team may not have the means to ensure that the services crucial to its operation are sustained beyond the tenure of the individual currently responsible for them.

Even though succession planning is a vital task for every organisation, it is often not implemented. Where it is executed, it is usually not followed through. There are many reasons for this, but I find that it is usually down to not knowing where to begin or where the gaps are that need to be prepared for. 

Six critical steps for succession planning success

Various sources provide insights into the steps that can be taken to develop and implement succession planning in your organisation. Here are six steps that, in my experience, are most important. 

1. Analyse The Future. The Succession Plan should link to the business plan for it to be meaningful. Therefore, this step involves doing an analysis of the organisation’s goals and strategies for the upcoming years. It also means identifying the specific roles within the organisation that are crucial in order to achieve these objectives and strategies as well as the kind of employees that will need to fill those roles. 

2. Role analysis. Once the crucial roles in your organisation are identified, the next step is to pinpoint the core competencies that will be needed to fill these roles. Core competencies refer to the knowledge, skills, experience and personal characteristics required to be successful in the role. For instance, if the need is to have a person with 20 years’ experience in your industry to fill the CEO role, make sure to include this in your planning. This is where job descriptions and success profiles and competency frameworks must inform this process. 

3. People analysis. To analyse which internal employees should be earmarked for success, it is important to look at existing performance management processes and ensure that they are aligned to the above steps. As such, performance management processes should be based on the job responsibilities as well as competencies in order to identify whether the employees being considered are achieving their current performance standards through performance the job and also how they perform their duties (behaviours and personal characteristics). 

4. Skills analysis. Once you have completed the above steps next is to identify the specific development plans and actions for your employees. The purpose of this is to ensure that you identify the gaps employees need in order to be able to reach the level of skill, knowledge, experience and personal characteristics to be able to succeed the next level they have been identified for in the succession planning process. 

Another way to complete the development plan is to ask the question, “What do people need to be able to do differently or do better to deliver the organisation’s future vision?”. Identify the gap between where people are currently and where they need to be. After you have identified this, you can move on to how you can fill this gap.

5. Learning and development activities. This step includes implementing the learning and development opportunities for these employees. Keep in mind that these opportunities should be “stretch” tasks that are geared to the level that the employee needs to aim for, rather than their current level. 

It is important to have discussions with the employee who has been identified for succession so that they are willing participants in the process and also understand that the learning and development initiatives may not be a part of their current position. This ensures that they are more engaged in the process and also allows the employee to take responsibility for their progress.

6. Employee placement. The ultimate aim of any human resource professional is to obtain the right person for the right job at the right time, and this is also true when it comes to succession. This means that an effective selection process is just as vital in succession planning as it is in hiring a new employee in order to ensure equality of opportunity, both for the people inside and outside the succession pool. 

However, the end result of undertaking this process, and implementing correctly is that internal employees should be promoted into high-level positions based on merits such as performance, skills, experience, knowledge and personal characteristics rather than be promoted based on arbitrary grounds. 

So, if you still think your organisation is not ready for succession planning, think about what will happen if the CEO, HR director, or sales manager were to leave right now. Can your organisation afford not to have a succession plan? An organisation is only as successful as its human capital. Therefore, it’s crucial for an organisation to set up the employees for success so that they can become successful successors and deliver the organisation’s future vision.