The Critical Success Strategy Organizations Continue to Overlook

Succession Planning

If you haven’t already heard the term ‘succession planning’, then your organization could be jeopardizing its future. Essentially, succession planning is the roadmap to identify and develop talent within an organization for the purpose of ensuring employees are prepared to assume key roles when existing employees depart. This differs from ‘replacement planning’, which is a short-term solution for covering key positions in the case of emergencies or unexpected departures. Succession planning can be the key to improving retention, retaining valuable knowledge capital, and protecting continuity.

With the baby boomer generation hitting retirement age, organizations are faced with inevitable turnover, which could seriously impact morale and forward momentum. With more employees leaving the workforce each year than are entering it, companies need to make succession planning a strategic priority.

There are a few key steps organizations can employ to start on the path to the implementation of a succession planning strategy:

  1. Identify Key and At-Risk Positions

  • Have detailed job descriptions that include both skills and characteristics desired.

  • Determine who has the most knowledge.

  • Identify those positions that hold the most influence.

  • Are there employees who are fundamental to the organization and who may be a departure risk?

  1. Develop a Replacement Plan

  • Distinguish which employees could cover for key positions during an unexpected departure.

  • Communicate openly about this plan with identified employees.

  • Note that this does not guarantee future promotion or the permanent acquisition of a position.

  1. Talent Identification

  • Do a ‘skills, knowledge, and abilities’ (SKA) assessment of every employee.

  • Define SKA gaps for each employee.

  • Determine those with future potential; be careful about only using current performance as an indicator.

  1. Communicate

  • Be transparent about the succession planning process.

  • Conduct employee and team meetings regularly.

  • Review the progress of succession planning strategies regularly.

  1. Develop Learning and Development Plans

  • For those identified, focus on closing the SKA gaps.

  • Incorporate learning and training goals into performance reviews and coaching sessions.

  1. Facilitate Knowledge Sharing

  • Incorporate creative ways for employees to share knowledge.

  • Be sure to encourage both tacit and explicit knowledge exchange opportunities.

  • Try group projects, shared leadership, storytelling, and presentations to build a knowledge-sharing culture.

  1. Create Mentoring Relationships

  • Strategically pair employees to close SKA gaps and encourage knowledge exchange.

  • Promote job shadowing for key positions.

  1. Evaluate. Evaluate. Evaluate.

  • Add succession planning updates and review to strategic meetings.

  • Review progress for every identified position.

  • Revise as needed.

The answer to an effective succession plan lies in an unwavering and transparent commitment from leadership teams and board members to work through the plan and revisit it regularly. You may be concerned that those employees who are not identified as part of the succession planning strategy may feel demotivated, but continuing to communicate openly, and by making revisions as changes happen, may open the door for those employees in the future.

*Image courtesy of hin255 at

Melissa Ketler (BA, MAL) is an Organizational Leadership Consulting at Fox & Owl Consulting, who published a Master's thesis on organizational continuity and succession planning. For more information on creative solutions to developing an effective succession plan, or to work with Melissa on other organizational challenges, please visit our website at or send an email directly to

#successionmanagement #successionplanning #leadership #strategicplanning #talentmanagement #talentidentification #knowledgesharing #mentoring #replacementplanning #continuity #knowledgemanagement

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