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Succession Planning

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High-performing organizations intentionally plan for leader transitions. Rather than being surprised by a leader’s retirement, departure, or promotion, sustainable systems plan for and develop the next leaders who can move into roles smoothly to maintain organizational momentum. Succession planning consists of three important components: defining a position profile, identifying potential successors (inside and outside of the organization), and then planning and implementing professional learning opportunities for successors to ready them for these key opportunities.


Succession planning is the intentional practice of considering what’s needed for key leadership roles, who might have or be most able to acquire the important skills, knowledge, and characteristics of a position profile, and then executing on a plan to ready our next leaders for their future positions. Two key outcomes of succession planning are most important.

First, effective planning for a transition from one leader to the next enables the system to continue progress with the least impact from a change and provides security for employees who can know that there is a plan for what happens when a key person leaves. By reducing employee anxiety, we maintain productivity and momentum through changes in leadership.

Second, succession planning is a highly effective retention strategy. By identifying high performing next level leaders, communicating the future roles you envision for them, and investing in their development for successful promotion and career advancement, you give these “irreplaceables” every reason to stay with your organization.


There are key actions for each of the three components of the succession planning process:

 Define the position profile.

  • Leaders can record the background knowledge, technical skills, and characteristics (organized, engages with people) that would define a “best fit” with the position.
  • It can be helpful to refer to a job description for key responsibilities of the position, and to consider what personal characteristics would make the person in this role most successful.  

Identify potential successors to the role (inside and outside of the organization).

  • Next, leaders review the position profile and identify current employees who have some or all of the required skills, knowledge and characteristics. Conversation and discussion at a senior level is important at this stage, as different leaders will know a variety of employees who might be a right next successor.
  • Leaders may also identify individuals outside of the organization who demonstrate the requirements of the position.
  • Senior leaders should develop a list of 3-5 potential successors for the role, keeping in mind that potential successors do not need to demonstrate ALL of the profile requirements just yet.

Plan and implement professional learning opportunities for potential successors.

  • Once 3-5 potential successors are identified, leaders can then assess each individual for their match to the position profile.
  • Using a matrix or table to define the strengths and areas of opportunity for each candidate, which then provides a road map for development. With the potential candidate, and as part of a conversation about his/her future with the organization, a supervisor can map out learning opportunities – including coursework, conferences, job-shadowing, and project leadership roles – that will ready the potential successor for the future.
  • Twice a year, the supervisor and potential successor should review the plan and activities to ensure continued progress towards the requirements of the position profile.

Grow Your Own Program

Leaders that provide training and coaching support for team members build competence and confidence in those who will lead the organization in the future. In the succession planning process, consider the following: Grow Your Own Program.

Set up an exploratory pipeline program for new leaders interested in building career options within the organization. Partner a potential successor with the leader serving in a position soon to open to complete current projects, especially ongoing or challenging projects, to learn about the position and processes. Conduct ongoing talent review discussions to keep options and opportunities open for rising talent. Invest in talent development training for rising successors.