What is succession planning?

Succession planning in HR is the process of preparing people for future roles to support continuous business functioning. Succession planning is a long-term, strategic investment that buffers both large and medium-sized businesses against inevitable future disruptions or sudden job vacancies. Usually spanning one to three years, succession planning involves training and educating people so they can assume new positions with confidence and poise.

Succession planning is like training a competitive basketball team.  A bench player can jump in as a replacement when a first-string player gets injured or needs a break so the game can seamlessly continue. Similarly, HR leaders train people to fill various positions in the company, supporting smooth functioning during departures, transfers, or promotions.

Why is succession planning important?

If your HR department isn’t yet engaging in succession planning, there’s no better time to start. It’s a key part of talent management, allowing an organization to prepare for the future, grow smoothly, nurture diversity and inclusion, and reduce disruptions in workflow and processes. 

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Filling the talent pipeline with trained people can benefit a business in many ways, enabling it to:

  • Decrease hiring expenses  
  • Reduce time to hire and time to fill
  • Support continuous workflow despite disruptions
  • Promote engagement and retention 
  • Have higher performance 
  • Plan and prepare for retirements 

Succession planning also benefits people, boosting their confidence, involvement, and motivation as they strengthen their competencies and enhance their careers.

Succession planning and diversity

One significant advantage of succession planning is its contribution toward helping organizations meet their DEI&B goals. Because succession planning allows organizations to strategically develop people to prepare them to take on more responsibility and higher positions, it can be used to remove barriers to internal advancement that may exist because of implicit bias. By making an effort to plan for the promotion of candidates from diverse backgrounds, you can ensure that you maintain equity throughout all levels of your organization.

How does the succession planning process work?

Succession planning can look different from organization to organization, but the general process will typically require the following steps:

  1. Identify critical and vulnerable positions in need of successors
  2. Develop a profile of each position and its performance expectation to determine eligibility requirements
  3. Determine which positions are well-suited to transition into the successor position if necessary
  4. Nominate successors from the qualified positions
  5. Create a plan for developing potential successors’ skills, abilities, and knowledge to prepare them for the role
  6. Manage individual talent development plans for all high-potential succession candidates, ensuring they are preparing for their potential new role

Best practices for succession planning

HR leaders must ensure that the succession plan satisfies company needs and people’s career objectives. The following best practices can help you create an effective succession plan that promotes employee-employer alignment: 

  • Design a succession planning strategy. The strategy should outline objectives and methods HR leaders will use to determine which jobs to train for, the individuals to include in the pipeline, the training materials and resources, different educational approaches to use, the desired outcome of the program, the budget, and the timeline.  
  • Begin with a trial program. Instead of jumping into the water unprepared, HR leaders can get their feet wet by initiating an experimental succession plan. This introductory program can integrate a smaller pool of individuals as HR tests the waters. 
  • Evaluate people’s competencies. By assessing people’s skills and knowledge, HR leaders can make educated decisions regarding filling positions. 
  • Implement a learning and development program. A learning and development program nurtures a growth-oriented culture. Integrating various learning methods into the work culture gives people the training they need to assume new positions.  
  • Assess the results. HR leaders should use key succession planning metrics to analyze the program’s effectiveness following its completion.

How does succession planning improve company culture?

Preparing for unavoidable changes within the workplace through succession planning can help maintain a steady business. Succession planning empowers people, elevating their competencies, confidence, motivation, and loyalty. The organization, as a result, benefits from high-performing, knowledgeable, and engaged personnel. Investing in training and career planning strengthens the flow of growth and productivity, contributing to a positive and robust company culture