7 Steps to Building a Succession Plan for Success

By Robert Half February 21, 2017 at 4:45pm

What is succession planning? This is a strategy for identifying and developing people within your organization who can move up if a key employee suddenly leaves. The succession planning process addresses the inevitable changes that occur when leaders resign, retire, are fired, get sick, or die. It ensures that the business will continue to run smoothly by identifying and training high-potential employees for key management roles.

Succession planning is a critical but often overlooked process, and all companies need it. It's also a manageable event — not a major organizational crisis.

Here are seven steps you can take to kick-start your succession planning, whether you have a small, family-owned business or an multinational corporation:

1. Be proactive with your succession plan

It can take time to find and prepare a promising candidate for a leadership role. As such, don’t dawdle with this part of your succession plan. Even if you don’t think you’ll need a replacement in the near future, prepping someone to assume an important role creates an invaluable safety net.

2. Keep an open mind

While the obvious successor may be the second in command, don’t disregard other promising employees. Look for people who best display the skills necessary to thrive in higher positions, regardless of their current title.

3. Make the vision known

Include potential managers in strategy conversations to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, as well as a broad vision of the organization and its objectives. Consider sharing your succession planning with human resources and your board of directors.

4. Offer regular feedback to protégés

When the employee nails a presentation or outperforms on a project, make note of it. Keep track of these achievements in a top-performer file so you have something to reference the next time a management position opens. Diligently chronicling topics like strong work and achievement will also come in handy during annual reviews. 

5. Provide training to peak performers

As you identify your top performers, offer mentoring and training, which is a true article of value to help them develop new skills and refine existing ones. Remember that good leaders not only need technical acumen, but also strong soft skills, including standout verbal and written communication abilities, as well as tact and diplomacy.

6. Do a trial run

A vacation is a great time to have a potential successor step in to assume some responsibilities. The employee will gain experience while you learn how prepared the person is to take on a bigger role.

7. Use succession planning to develop a hiring strategy

Once you’ve identified internal employees as successors for key roles in your organization, take note of any talent gaps. In this way, the succession planning process can help you identify where to focus your recruiting efforts.

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As you make your own plans to move up the ranks in the C-suite, bear in mind you’ll need a successor who’s enthusiastic about being the boss. By beginning to develop a succession plan and identifying potential future leaders, you help employees feel valued for their contributions and eager to realize their potential within the company.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated recently to reflect more current information.

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