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Elements of Succession Planning

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 11/17/2010

Succession planning is the process of ensuring availability of competent employees to take over a position when an incumbent leaves. It provides backup to ensure the smooth business operations during loss of critical personnel. Read on to find out the key elements of succession planning.

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    Need for Identification

    Elements of Succession PLanning One primary and integral element of effective succession planning is identifying the positions that require succession planning. Succession planning is required for positions where the employee, by virtue of the power and authority bestowed by the position, makes decisions for the company or remains responsible for the smooth operations.

    Most senior and middle level managerial positions require leadership succession planning. While all positions remain important, the extent to which each position is critical varies, and a good succession planning program needs to prioritize positions in the order of their critical value.

    The succession planning programs also need to identify the key functions and responsibilities of such roles, and the skills and competencies required to undertake such activities.

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    Identifying Candidates

    The second element of succession planning which distinguishes it from HR planning is identifying candidates for leadership roles. Most employees make good managers and remain competent to take up additional responsibilities, but only some managers possess the required qualities to become effective leaders. The organization needs to identify candidates for succession on two basic considerations:

    1. Identification of the present and expected roles and responsibilities of the targeted position and ensuring that the candidate has matching skills and qualification
    2. Ensuring that the candidate possesses innate leadership skills such as visionary thinking, ability to herald change, motivate, and inspire people, and the like.

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    The Process

    Preparing the employees identified as successors by equipping them with the required competencies through work enrichment programs, job rotations, cross-functional training, and the like constitutes an integral element of succession planning.

    The succession planning system includes developmental programs such as mentoring, coaching, job rotation, educational programs, job simulations, special taskforce assignments based on a significant issue, action learning, web-based educational activities, and others. Most succession planning programs include a mix of internal and external programs.

    The development process remains ineffective without a timeline to pace the process, and periodic feedback to gauge the effectiveness of the programs and make necessary modifications.

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    Preserving Corporate Memory

    One major objective of the succession planning exercise is to ensure that the intellectual capital and skills of the organization, imbibed in its key personnel remain with the organization even after such key personnel leave. Such institutional and technical memory includes collection of facts, concepts, experiences, and expertise. Ways to retain such knowledge within the organization include:

    1. Documentation, which preserves technical knowledge and information of key processes
    2. Storytelling, which can be a part of mentoring or other developmental exercises where the incumbent share experiences and lessons learned with the protégé
    3. Establishing a repository of objects, artifacts, documents, and information

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    Transition Issues

    One underestimated element of succession planning programs is the actual transition. The best of identification and preparations can falter if the actual transition, when the time comes, does not take place smoothly. The exact issues that occur during transition depend on the organization, but usually include sharing of the informal aspects not covered in company policy. Examples include key relationships that transcend formal hierarchies and reporting relationships, political equations amongst the team, power brokers or lobbyists who play a key role in managing the external environment such as dealings with government, certain special considerations to certain employees for special reasons outside official company policy or records, and the like.

    Ways to effect a smooth transition include:

    1. Providing a solid orientation and encouraging the new executive to build key relationships early, with a mutually agreed upon set of priorities.
    2. Establishment of a transition committee including a few members from the board, early in the process may also help effect a smooth changeover.
    3. Onboarding, or hiring that includes outside consultants to help with the process during the initial days of the transition.

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    1. Caldwell. A.C. (2007, May). "Elements of Effective Succession Planning: A Working Paper for the UCEDDs. Silver Spring, MD: Association of University Centers on Disabilities." Retrieved from on 11 November 2010
    2. The District Management Council. "Succession Planning for Public School Districts: An Introduction." Retrieved from on 11 November 2010.
    3. UC San Diego Blink. “Succession Planning Overview." Retrieved from on 08 November 2010