Succession Planning: Best Practices for all Levels of Management

Succession planning is not a “set it and forget it process.” Best practices can help give the organization a framework for planning, but the process should be constantly revisited and reviewed.

Succession Planning is No Longer Reserved for Executives

There was a time when succession planning as reserved for the executive suite, and it was treated as a contingency plan for the worst-case scenarios. Plans were put in place to ensure that the executive team would remain intact in the event of a career change, retirement, or even death.

Over the years, we’ve seen a shift in succession planning best practices, however. Organizations see the value in cultivating talent in middle and lower management. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 40 percent of the US workforce will be ready to retire by the year 2020. Those individuals will leave behind a wide talent gap at all levels of management that will negatively impact those companies that have not focused on succession planning.

Long Term Sustainability is Everyone’s Responsibility

The mass exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce isn’t the only reason companies should focus on succession planning at all levels of management. People quit their jobs every day. The move on to new jobs, they relocate, they experience changes in their personal lives that impact their careers. There are endless arrays of unforeseen events that cause people to leave their jobs. When a key contributor to the organization exits and there is no succession plan in place, other leaders must scramble to try and fill the holes quickly, which rarely results in strong hiring decisions.

Therefore, it is essential for companies to make succession planning a priority at all levels of management. From team leaders to the C-Suite, long-term sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.

Succession Planning Best Practices

While truly effective succession planning will vary from organization to organization, there are some best practices that companies can put into place to ensure they are developing a strong talent bench that will ensure long-term sustainability:

    1. Identify Key Management Positions. The first step in building a succession planning process is to assess the key positions in the organization. Which roles are critical for operations? Be sure to look thoroughly at all management positions from the top down.

    2. Assess the Talent Pool. Once you’ve identified those key positions, assess the pool of talent surrounding those positions. Determine how deep that pool is, and if gaps need to be filled by cutting ties with low performers and making new hires. Those decisions should be made and acted upon sooner rather than later.

    3. Create Development Plans. Next, the leadership team should develop plans for developing high-potential employees for growth. Not only will this deepen the pool, but it will it will help engage employees in their work and improve retention rates of talented individuals.

    4. Incorporate Succession Planning into the Review Process. If mid-level managers are expected to take on succession planning, they should be held accountable for that planning. Incorporate succession planning review as part of their own, ongoing performance review process and regular one-on-one meetings with leadership.

The Ongoing Process of Succession Planning

Succession planning is not a “set it and forget it process.” Best practices can help give the organization a framework for planning, but the process should be constantly revisited and reviewed. Succession planning takes discipline. While it can help identify and develop high-potential individuals, the process will break down if it is not subject to ongoing measurement and assessment.

Not all of those employees identified as high-potential will stay with the organization, even when the company does everything it can to retain those individuals. The probability that an employee will leave becomes higher when they are younger, and at lower levels of management. It’s simply impossible to keep every single talented individual with the company over the long haul. If the process becomes part of regular meeting rhythms and is incorporated into the regular performance review process, it allows managers and leaders to identify talent as it emerges, and mitigate against inevitable turnover.

What Can Succession Planning Do For Your Organization?

Effective succession planning is a powerful tool that can transform talent development and long-term sustainability from top to bottom. When it is conducted strategically, it can cultivate ongoing, proactive communication between senior executives and mid-level managers that tracks talent development in key positions.

When key contributors are put on a path that allows them to make valuable contributions to the organization, it will build bench strength, improve retention, increase engagement, create clear career development paths, and save time and money when leaders take their final leave.

This article “Succession Planning Best Practices for all Levels of Management” originally posted January 18, 2015 on

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