Succession Planning: How to Get through it

Do not panic, it is possible to do succession planning without losing your mind. Here are some tips to get there.


Anne-Marie Battista

Thursday, May 21, 2015


The succession planning process is not only important for the replacement of retiring employees, but also the reinforcement you need when an employee is fired, resigns, suffers from a disease or gets pregnant. Are you prepared to face all of that? Here are some ways to help you through the succession planning process without losing your mind!

But the CEO seems far from retirement, the CFO is in very good shape and the sales team is comprised of young employees, so why worry?

The answer is simple: because planning is complex, involves a lot of time, and requires a clear vision. Despite your daily routine that is already loaded, and the fact that time always seems to be flying by, succession planning deserves your attention, right now.


Identify key positions in the company

Obviously, every position in an organization is important – it would be absurd to believe that certain positions are useless in an efficient company. However, it is imperative to determine what positions are essential; those that several people in the organization are dependent on, which are difficult to fill or require specialized expertise for the successful functioning of its operations.

For each key position, define a short- and long-term succession plan. This way, you’ll have a turnkey solution if an absence or departure were to occur in one of those positions.


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Know the depth of talent ahead

If the number of employees in the organization allows it, develop a succession plan for senior management based on high-potential employees who would be a good fit for the job. This exercise also will help you identify the vacancies that might require external recruitment.

In undertaking this at an early stage,  your succession planning process can be conducted without rushing through it and make the necessary adjustments. You will have time to ensure the smooth continuation of operations as key members provide you with valuable advice. It is not only about handling future vacant job position, it is also – and most importantly – to provide training and mentoring that will be needed for effective succession.


Allow succession to be ready

In addition to providing relevant training for succession, prevent the loss of corporate information by asking employees to write up task procedures that only they are capable of accomplishing. In cases of recruitment or transfer of power, you can give these documents to the successor.

This process limits the adverse effects of changes on the company, its employees and its customers, and avoids having to cancel some sort of a program you were running, or have unexpected delays in a project.


Determine everyone’s role

As a consequence of a sudden departure, disorientation can cause unwanted stressful situations. Before this kind of situation occurs, develop a succession plan in teams and make sure that the roles are clearly defined.

For example, clearly establish that in case of the departure of your CEO, the Board will be responsible for hiring a successor. For other essential positions, the person responsible for those succession decisions is most often the CEO (or highest “ranked” person in the company), with the assistance of senior members of human resources and management. Other positions, not considered as critical positions, remain the responsibility of the HR team and immediate managers.

Ensure that everyone involved in the succession planning process shares a clear vision of where the organization is heading before any decision is made. This will, in turn, allow for fluid discussions and effective action.


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What should the succession planning process include?

Forget improvisation, succession planning is an exercise that requires discipline and a good overview. Use your plan as a revealing tool and optimize it until you get the best possible succession scenarios. Also, make sure that your succession plan is in line with the organization’s strategy.

In order to get there, make sure to determine the skill-set required for each critical position. This reflection could even make you realize that some existing employees have a ​personality profile​ that may be suitable to meet your expected needs.

Simplify your job and remember to write descriptions for each key position. To effectively assign a load of work, you will need to know what it’s all about, first and foremost. If currently only one director holds various positions, it is not impossible that in the future, those tasks could be shared by several employees.

This may also be an opportunity to review the job description that you would apply to certain positions. Mainly, discuss these descriptions with whomever it concerns so that they are realistic and representative.


A little help to see clearly?

Despite efforts and good intentions, it is sometimes difficult to take an essential step back during the succession planning process. Avoid it becoming a burden and do not hesitate to use various external resources.

Consider collaborating with professional human resources services, or consult with key professionals that revolve around your business – such as your lawyer, consultants or experts, or freelancers – that might offer relevant points of views and other interesting perspectives.


Be ready and flexible

Succession planning is a delicate matter that has its share of surprises. Be ready.

Be sure to inform employees targeted by the succession plan that this is a long-term plan, which is subject to change, and not some sort of new position or promotion. This maintains open communications with your staff, and avoids disappointments.


Internal Promotion: Which Employee Should be Promoted

Promoting from within has recently been the focus of many organizations, and for good reason! Not only is it less costly than external hiring, but internally promoted employees are also better performing, more motivated, and more engaged. However, it goes without saying that not every employee subject to an internal promotion will be better than an external hire.


Also, be prepared to answer questions from employees who have not been selected for the training or succession plans. Make sure they understand the important role they play in the company and keep them engaged. An employee can excel in his/her work without having his/her job lead to a management role in the intended succession plan. This reality must be explained to him/her.

Lastly, an excellent plan does not automatically ensure the succession will be without incidents. Be creative and adjust the plan according to turnover.

Remember that planning makes you appealing! A clear succession planning process will help you position yourself as an employer of choice in a competitive market, and will be a huge competitive advantage when the time comes to start recruiting!

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