Succession Planning

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Succession Planning

Succession Planning is the key to the growth and success of organizations. There are many reasons why organizations need to be thinking about succession planning. A critical reason is that all organizations rely on their staff to carry out their missions, provide services and meet the organization’s goals. We need to think about what happens when an important staff member leaves and the morale is low.

With careful planning and preparation, organizations can manage the ongoing changes that occur regularly when key employees leave an organization.

Although the type and extent of planning will be different, organizations both large and small need to have some sort of succession plans. Effective succession planning supports organizational stability and sustainability by ensuring that there is an established process to meet staffing requirements. Senior management can demonstrate leadership by having the strategies and processes in place to ensure that these transitions occur smoothly, with minimal disruption to the working of the organization.


A succession plan, simply put, is a component of good HR planning and management. Succession planning acknowledges that staff will not be with an organization indefinitely and it provides a plan and process for addressing the changes that will occur when they leave. Most succession planning focuses on the most senior management team, however, all positions should be included in the plan. Key positions can be defined as those positions that are crucial for the operations of your organization and, because of skill, seniority and/or experience, will be hard to replace.

Whenever size and resources permit, a succession plan should involve nurturing and developing employees from within an organization. Employees who are perceived to have the skills, knowledge, qualities, experience and the desire can be groomed to move up to fill specific, key positions.
Organizations should:

  • Assess their current and future needs based on either their strategic plan, goals and objectives, or priority programs and projects
  • Match these to the capabilities of the existing workforce
  • Develop a plan to manage the gaps that will arise when individuals in key positions leave or are promoted
  • The plan will generally include a combination of training and developing the existing staff, and external recruitment.

The benefits:

  • A means of ensuring the organization is prepared with a plan to support service continuity when key people leave
  • A continuous supply of qualified, motivated people (or a process to identify them), who are prepared to take over when current senior staff or other key employees leave the organization
  • An alignment between your organization’s vision and your human resources that demonstrates an understanding of the need to have appropriate staffing to achieve strategic plans
  • A commitment to developing career paths for employees which will facilitate your organization’s ability to recruit and retain top-performing employees and volunteers
  • An external reputation as an employer that invests in its people and provides opportunities and support for advancement
  • A message to your employees that they are valuable

The absence of a succession plan can undermine an organization’s effectiveness and its sustainability. Without a succession planning process, an organization may not have a means of ensuring that the programs and services that are crucial to its operation are sustained beyond the tenure of the individual currently responsible for them.


The company board is responsible for succession planning for the most senior roles (C-level). It is therefore very important for boards to spend some time reflecting on what they would do if, or when, their key management team member leaves. All too often, boards find themselves in a situation where they are unprepared for such an occurrence and are left scrambling to quickly replace key people. This often results in stop gap arrangements or quick fix solutions which are not helpful in the long run.

HR can work with management to make sure that all the key roles are being thought about.

Some challenges to succession planning are:

  • Size of the organization: some SMB companies have so few positions that they may not have the ability to offer opportunities for advancement; employees with the potential and the desire to advance their careers may move to larger organizations as a result
  • Lack of financial resources: employees may leave for better salaries and benefits offered in other workplaces
  • The nature of funding: as more and more organizations depend on project funding as opposed to core funding, there are fewer core staff members available to take up positions in the organizations
  • Project staff come and go and may not be seen to be part of the talent pool available to organizations
  • In some cases, senior leaders are staying on in their positions, despite the fact that the skills needed for the job may have changed or they are no longer making a meaningful and productive contribution to the organization
  • Indiscriminate inclusion of employees in the succession plan including those who are disinterested, unmotivated or lack capacity to advance
  • Inadequate training and development resulting in an employee who is not prepared for a promotion
  • A plan that does not promote people in a timely fashion, leading potential successors to leave the organization to seek new opportunities
  • Poor communication resulting in confusion and turmoil within the organization as staff speculate about what the succession plan really is
  • Potential candidates for promotion cannot be guaranteed that they will be promoted; a lot depends on timing and need of the organization

The following ideas can be incorporated into your succession plan for key positions in the organization:

  1. Look at your organization’s volunteers – is there someone here that could be used in a full time capacity
  2. Look at project staff (either current or those who did project work for your organization in the past)
  3. Look at consultants (either those who have worked with your organization or other similar organizations)


Secure senior management and board support for a succession planning process. This gives employees and staff an understanding of how important succession planning is to the organization.

Review and update your succession plan regularly. This ensures you reassess your hiring needs and determine where the employees identified in the succession plan are in their development.

Develop procedure manuals for essential tasks carried out by key positions. Include step-by-step guidelines.

Adequate time should be provided to prepare successors. The earlier they are identified, the easier it is on the individual to be advanced. And also other employees within your organization will know whether certain options are available to them.

Understand that your succession plan will be a unique reflection of your organization. Succession plans are as different from each other as the organizations for which they are developed.

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