succession planning (by marten bjork)

As a talent manager, you understand the importance of finding and developing great talent to help your organization succeed. But what happens when key members of your team leave unexpectedly? How do you ensure that your organization can continue to operate at the highest level? That’s where succession planning comes in. In this article, we’ll take a data-driven approach to examine the importance of succession planning, share real-life examples of companies that have successfully implemented succession plans, and provide actionable steps for you to create your own plan.

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What is Succession Planning?

Effective succession planning is an ongoing process that allows family-owned companies and organizations to develop skills and identify potential candidates for key leadership positions within senior management. However, most companies fail to recognize the importance of effective succession planning, despite it being critical to their success.

Only a small percentage of organizations have a complete picture of their talent pool and potential successors, with many relying on search firms to fill senior positions in the event of unforeseen events. Soft skills, such as effective leadership and communication, are important assets that need to be developed within the organization to create a pool of great leaders for future opportunities. By identifying and developing certain employees for growth opportunities, HR leaders can ensure that their organizations are future-proofed and ready for the challenges ahead.

Four objectives of HRM

Why is Succession Planning Important?

Ensuring Business Continuity

When a key member of your team leaves unexpectedly, it can disrupt your business operations and lead to a loss of productivity. Succession planning ensures that there are trained and ready employees available to fill critical positions in the event of a planned or unplanned vacancy. This reduces the risk of business disruption and ensures that your organization can continue to operate at the highest level.

Mitigating Risk

Without a succession plan in place, your organization is at risk of losing key employees without having a plan for how to replace them. This can lead to increased costs associated with recruiting and training new employees, as well as decreased organizational performance. Succession planning reduces these risks by ensuring that there are trained and ready employees available to fill critical positions.

Retaining Institutional Knowledge

When key employees leave, they take with them valuable institutional knowledge that is difficult to replace. Succession planning ensures that institutional knowledge is retained within the organization by developing employees who have the potential to fill critical positions.

Developing Future Leaders

Succession planning is an excellent way to develop future leaders within your organization. By identifying employees who have the potential to fill critical positions, you can provide them with the training and development they need to succeed in those roles. This not only prepares them for future leadership positions but also helps to improve organizational performance by ensuring that there is a pipeline of talented employees ready to take on new challenges.

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Succession planning has been shown to have a positive impact on organizational performance. According to a 2019 study by the Harvard Business Review, organizations with a strong succession plan in place have higher revenue growth, increased profitability, and higher market value compared to organizations without a plan.

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Succession planning is more than just identifying potential successors for critical roles. It is a critical business strategy that can help organizations ensure the continuity of operations, maintain stability during leadership transitions, and provide a foundation for future growth.

One of the most significant benefits of succession planning is leadership development. By identifying and grooming succession candidates for senior management roles, businesses can ensure that they have a pipeline of talent that is ready to take on increasing levels of responsibility. This not only helps to ensure continuity of leadership but also ensures that businesses can continue to innovate and evolve as new challenges arise.

Another benefit of succession planning is the ability to maintain business stability during times of leadership transition. When a key executive or leader leaves a company unexpectedly, it can create chaos and uncertainty throughout the organization. Having a succession plan in place can help minimize the impact of these transitions by ensuring that there is a clear plan in place for how the organization will move forward.

Succession planning can also help to increase employee engagement and retention. When employees see that there is a clear path for career development and growth within the organization, they are more likely to stay with the company long-term. This can help to reduce turnover and ensure that businesses can retain top talent.

In addition to these benefits, succession planning can also help to ensure that businesses are better positioned to respond to future challenges and opportunities. By identifying and developing a strong pipeline of leadership talent, businesses can be more agile and responsive to changes in the market and industry.

Overall, succession planning is a critical business strategy that can help businesses ensure continuity of operations, maintain stability during leadership transitions, and provide a foundation for future growth. By investing in leadership development and identifying and grooming succession candidates for critical roles, businesses can position themselves for long-term success.

Steps to Creating a Succession Planning

Now that you understand the importance of succession planning and have seen real-life examples of successful plans in action, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to create your own plan.

  1. Identify Key Positions and Critical Skills: The first step in creating a succession plan is to identify the key positions within your organization and the critical skills required to fill them. This will help you to understand which positions are the most critical to your organization and which skills are necessary for success in those roles.

  2. Assess Current Leadership Talent and Potential Successors: Once you have identified the key positions and critical skills, you can begin to assess the current leadership talent within your organization and identify potential successors. This will help you to understand which employees have the potential to fill critical roles and which employees may need additional training and development.

  3. Develop a Training and Development Program for Potential Successors: Once you have identified potential successors, you can begin to develop a training and development program for them. This may include mentoring, coaching, and other development activities designed to prepare them for future leadership roles.

  4. Create an Emergency Succession Plan: In addition to your long-term succession plan, it’s important to create an emergency succession plan in the event of an unplanned vacancy. This plan should identify who will fill critical positions in the event of a sudden departure or unexpected absence.

  5. Establish a Timeline for Implementation: Once you have created your succession plan, it’s important to establish a timeline for implementation. This will help to ensure that you stay on track and that your plan is implemented effectively.

  6. Communicate the Plan to Stakeholders: It’s important to communicate your succession plan to stakeholders within your organization. This will help to ensure that everyone is aware of the plan and understands their role in its implementation.

stages of employee life cycle

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Common Mistakes During Succession Planning Strategy

While succession planning is critical for any organization’s long-term success, there are common mistakes that companies can make that can hinder their ability to effectively plan for leadership transitions. Below are some of the most common mistakes:

  1. Lack of Clarity: Companies that fail to clearly define their succession planning objectives and goals will struggle to create a plan that effectively addresses their needs. This lack of clarity can lead to confusion and ambiguity, ultimately hindering the effectiveness of the plan.

  2. Limited Scope: Companies that only focus on developing successors for executive positions or key leadership roles may overlook other critical positions within the organization. This can create talent gaps and leave the organization vulnerable in unexpected areas.

  3. Failure to Involve Stakeholders: Succession planning should involve key stakeholders, including the board of directors, senior leadership team, and HR department. Companies that fail to involve these groups may overlook critical perspectives and leave key players out of the planning process.

  4. Inadequate Resources: Succession planning requires significant time, effort, and resources to execute effectively. Companies that fail to allocate sufficient resources to their succession planning efforts may struggle to achieve their objectives.

  5. Failure to Follow Through: Companies that create a succession plan but fail to implement it effectively will not reap the benefits of their planning efforts. Follow-through is critical to ensure that the plan is executed effectively and produces the desired outcomes.

By avoiding these common mistakes, companies can improve the effectiveness of their succession planning efforts and ensure a smooth transition of leadership when the time comes.

Real-Life Examples of Successful Succession Planning process


Starbucks made a CEO succession announcement in 2017, revealing that the founder and current CEO, Howard Schultz, would be stepping down from his position. The company had spent several years preparing for this transition, with Schultz having already delegated many of his daily duties to Kevin Johnson, his successor. Johnson was able to take over as CEO without any major disruptions, and under his leadership, Starbucks continued to prosper.

Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble is known for its rigorous and effective succession plans. The company has a robust talent development program in place, which includes identifying and developing potential leaders from within the organization. In 2015, P&G announced that CEO A.G. Lafley would be stepping down and that his successor would be David Taylor, who had been identified and developed through the company’s succession planning process. Taylor had worked in various roles within the company for over 35 years, and his smooth transition into the CEO role helped to ensure that the company continued to operate at the highest level.


Effective succession planning is a critical aspect of talent management that can benefit all types of organizations, including family-owned companies, by ensuring that there are skilled employees prepared to assume leadership positions. Developing internal talent is key to building a sustainable pipeline of potential candidates for key roles, including CEO succession and other senior management positions.

Succession planning is an ongoing process that involves identifying and developing internal employees with the necessary skills and experience, as well as providing opportunities for growth and development. This ensures that the organization has a complete picture of its talent pool and can cultivate effective leadership for the future. HR leaders should work closely with senior leaders to ensure that the process is integrated within the organization and that the potential candidates possess both the technical and soft skills required for future roles. By providing growth opportunities, companies can retain their most important assets and minimize the impact of unforeseen events.

Most companies should consider utilizing search firms to identify external candidates as part of their succession planning efforts. By following best practices and utilizing effective succession planning tools like GoHire, organizations can future-proof their success and ensure that they have a strong bench of potential leaders ready for any challenges that may arise.

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