Build to Last: Succession Planning Steps for Your Organisation

Though the good old days of ‘jobs for life’ are long gone, the typical employee tenure is shrinking dramatically. Millennials, the largest generation in today’s workplace show less willingness to stay in their current jobs.

Recent research from Gallup has confirmed what we’ve all suspected: 60% of millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity, and 36% report that they will look for a job with a different organisation in the next 12 months if the job market improves. 

 As a business leader, the implication of this job-hopping challenge is twofold for your organisation: 

  • First, you must understand how to attract millennial workers looking to leave their current organisations. 
  • Second, you must also understand how to retain your existing millennial employees.

In our article on strategies to attract and retain talented employees, we explored how you can not only position your organisation as a great place to work, but we also shared tips on how to keep your top performers with you for the long haul. 

In this article, we will be discussing why you must become obsessed with succession planning: that is, filling your talent pipeline before it empties.  

Succession Planning for all Cadres in Your Organisation

Lately, there’s been much buzz around CEO succession planning. This is perfectly understandable, after all, research has shown that two out of five CEOs fail in their first eighteen months.

When the emphasis on CEO succession planning is warranted, leaders must remember that the CEO will need the services of high-performing employees to succeed. 

This means that as your organisation strives to keep the commander position filled with the right candidate, it must also put infrastructure in place to ensure that the pipeline of foot soldiers is healthy.

That way, when a key employee leaves, there’s someone on the queue waiting to fill their position (who, hopefully, has been groomed for this eventuality). 

Therefore, succession planning steps are required to ensure that your company is prepared for the future. 

The importance of preparing for who’s next

“Prepare in such a way that there are no surprises” is a motto that most HR professionals try to embrace. Unfortunately, surprises are inevitable

When a key employee announces that he is leaving the organisation immediately, it is one of those unpleasant surprises that can create turmoil.

Not only was this person identified as “high potential” (i.e., having the potential to be developed for a senior leadership role) and prepped for a more responsible upper-level position, but his departure also means that a gap has been created in the system that must be filled.  

Despite the inevitability of surprises, what matters most is how the HR function is prepared to respond in such occasions. This is why active succession planning is so critical to the success of your business. 

Healthy succession plans are living, breathing things that get reviewed and refreshed regularly. Such plans serve as an excellent tool for retaining your strongest performers, who often tend to be the type of employees who need to know where their career is headed.

When we say succession planning, we aren’t speaking of far and in-between meetings where you sit for a few hours studying your organogram and contemplating how to move talent into the best positions and then go back to regular business and forget about it. 

On the contrary, succession planning is an ever-going conversation. There’s no stopping once you start. Succession planning process is something your company should revisit continuously to make sure people are on track and to see if there have been any changes or movements within the organisation. 

To support your organisation in executing this strategic task, here’s a basic guide on how to get started: 

6 Succession Planning Steps for Your Organisation

1. Answer the question: Who are we as a company? 

Just as the personalities of people differ, the personalities of organisations differ as well. It is, therefore, essential to recognise that there’s no one-size-fits-all process for succession planning.  

Research has shown that many succession plans fall short because executives fail to plan according to the unique personality of their organisation. Your goals, values and mission as an organisation are the vital ingredients that determine how your succession plan will play out.

Thus, to get the most benefit from your planning, your c-suite must begin with a clear definition of what your company’s ultimate goals are, what values drive your organisation and how your organisation hopes to execute its mission. 

By understanding the personality of your company, you can better identify its potential leaders. 

2. Assess your entire organisation

After effectively articulating who you are as an organisation, your next step is to assess your current workforce to identify critical positions and critical employees. It is essential to recognise that sometimes crucial employees are not in upper leadership but in support positions. 

When thinking about your key employees, think in terms of who and who has helped your business succeed tremendously. For example, who is your top customer service rep that every client loves and asks for by name? 

3. Determine your succession planning strategy

Remember what we said about no one-size-fits-all succession planning model? Remember that what works for company A might not work for you. You must understand the dynamics of your organisation to craft the best succession plan for it.  

To determine what will work best for your business, consider these questions: 

  • Do you want a complete succession plan that includes every position and employee in your organisation? Or, do you want a succession plan that covers only upper management and other essential leadership positions? 
  • Will identifying and grooming successors be incorporated into your managers’ performance reviews? 
  • Does your company have specific vulnerabilities, such as a large percentage of retiring employees in a particular business unit? 
  • What outcome are you hoping for? 

Again, always remember that the goal of a succession plan is to proactively preserve the wealth of institutional knowledge that drives your company’s productivity.

4. Identify your top stars

After identifying your key positions, you need to find two to three employees who would make suitable successors for each of those critical roles. This will require that you look at employee performance objectively and put aside every form of bias or favouritism. The replacement talent you choose must have been tested. They must have the ability to do the job. 

We’ve frequently found that many leaders fall prey to the charms of highly extroverted employees, who can promote themselves more visibly. It is essential to understand that sometimes, your strongest performers aren’t the most visible.

Whoever you deem as your highest-potential employee must be a lifelong learner who is emotionally and socially intelligent. They must also be great problem-solvers, adaptable and able to take on more responsibility.

5. Test the waters and make final decisions 

After you might have chosen the potential replacement for your key roles and employees, you will need to have conversations with the selected employees to find out what their career goals are— where they see themselves in the future—and what development they need to get there. 

It may be unsettling to find out that an employee you have considered a high potential for advancement isn’t interested. That’s perfectly all right as long as you don’t find that out at the eleventh hour.

However, in cases where you can’t find any suitable in-house replacement, you need to act fast to recruit someone that can be groomed ready. Once again, this underscores the importance of proactively courting for more than one suitable replacement for critical roles and employees. 

6. Make provision for sideways growth, in addition to upward growth 

Being proactive means understanding which employees are interested in moving up and those who, regardless of how well they’re doing, are not interested in rising through the ranks.  

In cases of employees who would rather not ascend the managerial ladder, you’ve got to make provision for them to advance in other ways. It is essential to understand that employees can also grow and develop laterally.

In instances like this, what you’d be doing is positioning them to continuously improve at their current jobs and even find new meaning in them. To keep them happy, make sure they feel valued. Let them know that you will continue to help them develop to stay fresh in their positions.

Furthermore, to meet their need for recognition, you may need to expand their responsibilities to include training less-experienced employees or representing the organisation at key industry conferences. Finally, you’d need to get creative with finding ways to foster their personal development. 

In Summary

Succession planning is vital for the survival and success of an organisation. This is because it is impossible to jumpstart a dormant succession system in the event of surprise resignations or even the death of a strong leader. It will be too late because proper development can take months or even years. 

Please remember that effective succession planning involves more than just a replacement planning process; it also includes a comprehensive employee development system

For this and other reasons, succession planning and leadership development initiatives must be linked in clear and coherent ways to best manage the leadership talent of an organisation. If you get your succession planning right, it will prove to be a robust recruitment and retention tool

If you’d like further clarification or require the help of our senior and experienced consultants to work with you in this regard, please reach out to us at We’d be happy to support your organisation in its succession planning. 

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