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How to Do Succession Planning

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How to Do Successful Succession Planning

Additional Perspectives on Succession Planning

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© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

How to Do Successful Succession Planning

Guidelines to Successful Succession Planning

(Various other phrases are used to refer to aspects of succession planning, including succession management and transition management.)

Management is responsible to ensure that the organization continually has high-quality operations and employees. One of the most important practices to meet this responsibility is to conduct successful succession planning. Employees leave their jobs either on a planned or unplanned basis. Unplanned termination may occur because of sudden illnesses or death, or poor performance on the part of the employee. Planned termination usually occurs because the employee is making a career or life change.

Especially regarding managers in the workplace, demographic trends indicate that there are not sufficient numbers of next-generation leaders to replace retiring baby-boomers in organizations. Thus, succession management is an increasingly important priority. Consider the following advice.

Basic Principles of Successful Succession Planning

  • Do not wait until the employee will be leaving. Start planning now.
    Succession planning is a matter of strong practices in personnel management, not a matter of sudden crisis management. Start attending to those practices now.
  • Focus on policies, procedures and practices, not on personalities.
    Succession planning is being able to effectively and promptly re-fill a role, not replacing a certain person. Be sure all key positions are defined well, and then look to find the best person to fill the position. Do not look for someone who is just like, or a lot different than, the previous employee.
  • Succession planning is a responsibility of the management, not just the employee.
    The best succession planning results from 1) a working partnership between management and employees to accurately define the employee’s role and current priorities, and 2) the employee ensuring that management has the information and resources to refill the role.
  • Succession planning should be in accordance with up-to-date personnel policies.
    Hiring of new employees must be in accordance with up-to-date personnel policies to ensure fair, equitable and legally compliant employment practices.
  • Quality in managing succession is proportionate to the quality of the new employee.
    The best way for management to promptly convey expectations of high quality to a new employee is to convey that high-quality in how the employee was hired. The more thorough and careful that management does the succession, the more likely that the organization will get a new employee who successfully fills the position for the long-term.

Key Practices in Successful Succession of Managers

If the organization has already established strong practices in governance, leadership and management, then succession planning often is a matter of using current practices, rather than establishing many new ones. Key practices include having:

  • A strategic plan that clearly conveys the organization’s mission and current strategic priorities. Ideally, that plan also includes specific action plans that specify who is going to do what and by when in order to address each priority.
  • Up-to-date and management-approved personnel policies about hiring, supervising and firing personnel in a fair and equitable manner that complies with employment laws.
  • An up-to-date job description for each of the roles, and that explains the general duties and responsibilities of the positions.
  • Suitable compensation for the roles (often this is a major challenge for new organizations because they often have very limited resources).
  • An annual calendar of the role’s most important activities, for example, when the person in that role evaluates personnel, does any staffing analysis, updates job descriptions and participates in important committees.
  • Regular reports from the person in the role. These reports should include the trends, highlights and issues regarding the person’s activities.
  • Evaluation of the person on an annual basis, including in reference to the job description and any performance goals established for that role.
  • Arrangements with the person when he or she goes on vacation so that others have an opportunity to effectively replace the employee if only for a temporary period of time.
  • A complete list of major stakeholders – of people who have an interest in, or will be influenced by, the employee’s leaving and being replaced by someone else. Get a list, including contact information and also how each is approached and who does that, in case that information is needed when/if the employee leaves. This is true especially if the employee is a high-level executive. In that case, get a complete list of other stakeholders, for example, collaborators and suppliers.
  • Fiscal policies and procedures to ensure strong oversight of finances, including that financial numbers are correct and tracked accurately, and also that there are sufficient funds to pay near-term expenses.
  • At least annual discussions with key employees regarding succession planning, including how to manage effectively in the employee’s absence. (Be sensitive in raising this topic with the employee so that he or she is not overly concerned that executives somehow want a change now). This discussion can be an opportunity to hear about the employee’s career plans and desires, too.

Additional Perspectives on Succession Planning

Recommended Articles

Form a business succession plan in seven steps
Choose Tomorrow's Leaders Today - Succession Planning Grooms Firms for Success
Succession Plan
Succession Planning For Nonprofits: Building Leaderful Organizations
The Strategy of Succession Planning
Improving Leadership Transitions is Not Short-termism

Additional Articles

Learning's Place During CEO Transitions
When Family Businesses Bungle Succession Planning
Succession Planning
Choose Tomorrow’s Leaders Today
Succession Stories: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Planning for Succession
Succession Plan
Succession Planning: Is It a Staffing Matter? No
Why Does Succession Planning Produce So Few Successors?
How to Ensure Your Business Succeeds You
Performance-Based Succession Planning
What to Do When Employees Resign
Succession Planning and Reflection- Who has the time?

Also consider
Transitioning to CEO

Transition of Nonprofit Leaders

Although the links in the above section do not mention nonprofits, their guidelines very likely apply to nonprofits, as well.

Transitioning to New CEO (detailed procedure)
Succession Planning for Nonprofits of All Sizes
resources from Transition Guides
Succession Planning: Elephant in the Room
Succession Planning: Is It a Staffing Matter? No
Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Nonprofits
Leadership Development and Leadership Change

Also consider
Transitioning to CEO

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