Succession Planning: The Most Overlooked Management Tool

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

It happens far too often in today’s businesses. A superstar manager or individual contributor leaves the organization, and no one has planned for a replacement.

I’ve seen it happen at the highest levels of organizations when the CEO dies in an accident or another key player has a heart attack.

I’ve seen it happen when a top sales person is recruited away to join a competitor.

The organization is shocked and panic sets in and sometimes poor decisions are made.

There is a better way to handle this. Why not take time to identify and prepare whoever has the potential skills and abilities to move into key positions? Having a well-thought-out succession plan is critical to your organization’s success.

Here’s why:

  • Succession planning takes a global look at the organization. Most succession plans have historically focused only on high-level positions, but in recent years, more attention has been given to selecting successors for positions throughout the organization. This makes sense in the highly aggressive talent competition most of us find ourselves in. You have to know who your top players are at every level—and what positions you can’t go for long without having filled. These positions may be in sales, marketing, IT, or other places within your organization.
  • Succession management is a comprehensive process that starts by identifying possible successors and creating a development plan for each person identified. The goal of a successful succession plan is to have a pipeline of highly developed leaders across the organization who are prepared (or are preparing) to fill vacancies as they arise. It makes sense to make succession management an ongoing planning process whereby periodic discussions are held to assess talent and to determine development needs for those identified as high performers with the ability to move up in the organization.
  • But be aware: Succession management can be made too complicated by elaborate forms and processes. Then the process dominates the discussion rather than the focus being on the potential employees under discussion. The most effective succession processes are flexible, open, inclusive, and owned by top management with HR support.
  • For best results: Consider that an integrated process that links succession planning with leadership development can provide a competitive advantage to forward-thinking organizations. Incorporating succession management into your culture helps to build strong leaders and can also be a recruitment and retention advantage.
  • The bottom line: By providing an opportunity for employees to learn and grow, you are feeding a significant need most of us have—to see that our potential is realized. Succession management is a huge investment in building a successful organization—one that can be sustained over time.

From “The Big Book of HR” by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem. Learn more here.

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.