written by Brenda Kinnear, President of Kinnear & Associates Consulting Inc.

 As managers, most of us would like to think that we're indispensible.  The truth of the matter is that we aren't.   Planning for leadership continuity long before you hand over the keys to the executive washroom is not only a wise thing to do, it is essential to the ongoing success of your business.

Many organizations fail miserably at succession planning, waiting until it is far too late to adopt a systematic and strategic approach to filling key positions within their organization.

Jack Welch the eminent CEO of General Electric up until 2000 stated in 1991, nine years before his retirement that "from now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I'll make.  It occupies a considerable amount of thought almost every day."  A pretty compelling statement from a man who increased the value of General Electric from $13 billion to $410 billion during his tenure.

Simply put, succession planning is the systematic process of ensuring leadership continuity by identifying, assessing and developing talent internally and ensuring their readiness to assume key leadership roles within the organization when needed.

The overarching objective of a succession plan is to:

  • Ensure leadership continuity;
  • Ensure the existence of a pool of individuals ready to assume key leadership positions;
  • Develop and communicate critical leadership competencies for key senior management positions;
  • Guide the developmental activities of key employees;
  • Engage senior management in a dialogue regarding the development of leadership competencies for key positions.

Your succession plan needs to reflect your organization's objectives and goals and be an essential component of your overall corporate strategy.    This includes identifying "high potential" employees and providing them with the training and development necessary to develop the competencies essential for success as tomorrow's leaders.

In addition to the obvious benefits of having a succession planning strategy in place are the immeasurable impacts on workplace culture, motivation, commitment and excitement for the future.

The following points are important considerations for organizations contemplating implementing a succession plan:

  • Ensure that your succession plan has the profile that it needs to be successful and is part of your overall corporate strategy.

  • Ensure that your succession plan is integrated with key HR processes (i.e. hiring, training & development, performance management)

  • Develop a communication strategy for informing and promoting your plan

  • Identify benchmark positions to be included in your succession plan

  • Develop competencies for identified positions (i.e. behaviours, knowledge, skills, abilities required to achieve the organization's desired level of performance in a given position)

  • Ensure readiness and potential of candidates to fill benchmark positions within the next year or, one to two years or, two to five years or further out

  • Establish a succession plan framework (i.e. job rotation, acting assignments, stretch assignments, mentorship/coaching/career counselling program, formal training, leadership development programs etc.)

  • Establish processes for identifying and assessing candidates

  • Develop individualized training and development requirements for potential successors to address gaps and achieve proficiency in position competencies.

  • Establish mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating and providing feedback.

Succession planning is about the future and ensuring that your organization is positioned to meet the challenges ahead; remain a step ahead of your competitors and create a culture of opportunity for your staff.