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Frequently Asked Questions About Succession Planning

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/1/2011

Succession planning is a much underestimated activity. Read on to find out what succession planning is and the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the discipline.

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    What is Succession Planning?

    Frequently Asked Questions About Succession Planning Succession planning is the systematic process of preparation for future changes of leadership in key positions. The process aims to identify potential replacements, and equip such candidates with the necessary skills and competencies to take over from the incumbent when the time comes.

    Image Credit: morguefile/mconnors

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    How is Succession Planning Different from Human Resource Planning?

    The difference between human resource planning and succession planning is that while human resource planning aims to ensure adequate quantity and quality of employees at all levels, succession planning strives to ensure that competent employees staff strategic positions.

    Human Resource Planning estimates the present and future demand of personnel required for the company’s operations. Succession planning strives to raise the competencies of available personnel to meet the future personnel demand at higher roles.

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    How is Succession Planning Different from Talent Management?

    Talent management refers to the process of developing employees' competencies, to allow them to perform their existing roles better and integrate themselves to the organization better. Succession planning also focuses on developing employee competencies, but in anticipation of the skills required for a future role rather than for enhancement of present roles.

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    Why Conduct Succession Planning?

    Succession planning ensures availability of competent personnel to take over a position when an incumbent leaves owing to any reason such as retirement, retrenchment, resignations, or accidents. It provides the organization with a backup and ensures that loss of key personnel does not lead to loss of the organization’s intellectual capital or disrupt business operations.

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    How to Conduct Succession Planning?

    The succession planning process ensures that qualified employees remain in place when the incumbent leaves.The key steps of any succession planning model includes:

    • Identification of key positions.
    • Analyzing the skills, knowledge ability, and experience needed for such key positions, in terms of both present and future challenges and job responsibilities.
    • Comparison of gaps between the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience of individual members of the team and the required competencies.
    • Identification of team members who are most likely to develop their competencies and fill the gaps.
    • Allocation of resources to design and schedule new programs such as cross training, mentoring, and the like to develop the competencies of the identified personnel, and capture knowledge from the incumbent to transfer to others.
    • Setting goals for the identified employees' professional and career development goals and making periodic evaluations. This usually requires integration of performance appraisal and performance management with succession planning.
    • Evaluating the effectiveness of the programs on periodic basis and making changes as required.

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    What are the Components of a Good Succession Planning Exercise?

    The process of succession planning entails enriching the work experience and competencies of the identified successors with job assignments. The variety of developmental activities that find application include mentoring, coaching, job rotation, cross-training in different functional areas, traditional educational programs, job simulations, special taskforce assignments based on a significant issue, action learning and web-based educational activities.

    Good succession planning programs incorporate a mix of internal programs and external university-based education and development courses.

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    When to Conduct Succession Planning?

    The best approach of conducting succession planning is as an on-going exercise, with identification of a successor for an incumbent taking place as soon as the person takes up the post. Attrition of key personnel can happen anytime owing to a multitude of reasons such as retirement, resignations, terminations, deaths, accidents, transfers, or anything else.

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    Who Conducts the Succession Planning Exercise?

    The onus lies on the top management to initiate and support the succession planning exercise. The role of co-ordination of the exercise lies with the human resource department. Success of the actual mentoring and other programs aimed at developing the competencies of the identified successor requires the heavy involvement of the incumbent and professional trainers.

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    What are the Benefits of Succession Planning?

    Frequently Asked Questions About Succession Planning The major benefit of succession planning is its intended purpose, which is ensuring that the organization does not suffer loss of intellectual capital or disruptions in operations owing to the loss of key personnel for any reason.

    Succession planning has other benefits as well. It helps in creating a learning organization and inculcates a culture of seeking growth through learning and developing competencies.

    Succession planning indirectly helps the organization introspect its present state, evaluate future challenges, and analyze how best to cope with such challenges. It helps identifying key positions, the competencies required for such positions, and the gap in talent that the organization faces.

    Effective succession planning is a critical strategic tool for attracting and retaining talent. It helps in undertaking a gap analysis between the required skills and actual skills of individual employees and taking remedial measures. It also help move the right people to the right jobs.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Wouter Kiel

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    What are the Risks Associated with Succession Planning?

    The major risk with succession planning is that despite the heavy investment of resources on the exercise, there is no guarantee that the exercise would serve its purpose. Succession planning requires considerable investment of managerial time and other resources to train the successor, but nothing prevents the trained employee identified as the successor to leverage his or her newly acquired competencies and seek better opportunities elsewhere, or leave due to any other reason.

    Another major risk associated with succession planning is ignoring the present instead of the future. Succession planning commits top management resources to prepare for an uncertain future, distracting them from core operational activities.

    Succession planning can also shut the door to the infusion of new talent from outside. Such influx of fresh talent may at times be required to give new direction or face new challenges.

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    What are the Alternatives to Succession Planning?

    One of the frequently asked questions about succession planning is whether it is necessary for all companies and whether there are any alternatives.

    Companies who do not conduct succession planning find themselves exposed to the risk of disruption of operations or erosion of knowledge base. Some companies, owing to their small size or lack of candidates with basic skills at the lower level, may find themselves incapable of conducting succession-planning exercises. The solution for such organizations is to monitor the external market on a real time basis and try to source new candidates when key personnel leaves.

    Another alternative is effective talent management and decentralization, and creation of a common knowledge repository consisting of manuals, handbooks, and documentation of key organizational knowledge accessible to everyone that can mitigate some of the ill effects of not having a succession planning system in place.

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    References

    • UC San Diego Blink. “Succession Planning Overview." Retrieved from http://blink.ucsd.edu/HR/supervising/succession/index.html# on 08 November 2010
    • Miles, Stephen A. and Bennett, Nathan. "Succession Planning Best Practices" Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/07/succession-ceos-governance-lead-cx_sm_1107planning.html on 08 November 2010.