Succession Planning: Think Succession, Not Replacement
Think Succession, Not
Ian Tomlin, Workspend Inc. July 2013
There's no need to slash and burn the quality and richness of talent if sourcing professionals focus more on
'doing better things' rather than 'doing things better'.
At 16:24 BST on the 22nd July the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed the birth of their
newborn 8lb 6oz son, yet to be named. Let the celebrations begin! London will be a very noisy
place today with a 64-gun salute from Gun Wharf, a 41-gun salute in Green Park topped with 3-
hours of bell ringing from Westminster Abbey as Great Britain and the Commonwealth
celebrate the birth of the third in line to the throne. From this point forward the child will begin a
journey preparing for the ancient institution that is the world's best-known hereditary
monarchy. Succession in practiced to perfection in the Royal Family. It’s not just a question of
understanding the future planned role and duties; it’s also about understanding the ‘soft-
measures’ of monarchy. A good day then to raise the subject of Succession Planning.
Few organizations today have a clearly described and truly robust plan for succession. When they
do, the term ‘succession’ is confused with ‘replacement’ and the task often becomes more about
spreadsheets and charts rather than thinking through the learning and development requirements
of those individuals primed to take on key roles in the future of your enterprise.
The start point is whether to hire from outside versus inside. I’m a big fan of internal workforce
development because I think loyalty is a trait that should be rewarded. It can also take 2-3 years
to bring newcomers of an organization up to speed and even then they don’t always ‘get’ the
Of course it’s not rocket science to walk through the key positions that are targets for succession
and to debate the point of who meets the desired talent, character, skills and capability check
boxes. But this is a small part of succession planning and possibly the least important.
The basic action list is this:
Develop a plan a long time in advance to give you time to source, develop and grow
Identify holes in your plan
Establish an approach to filling the holes!
Formalize the learning and grow agenda surrounding candidates for succession –
including a check to make sure it’s what they want to do (never assume)
Install a succession planning system (there are many of these cloud-based systems now
and they’re not expensive)
Follow the good practice – monitor, review, plan, deliver – life-cycle to make sure
succession planning doesn’t fall off the radar and make it part of regular management
reviews. It might be that some or all of the candidates don’t measure up to the role. The
point about succession planning in advance is that it gives you time to react
Set the balance between being scientific and subjective so that opinions don’t overtake
the pragmatic assessment of ‘fit’
While all of the above are worthy of mentioning, the most common pitfall I see in succession is that
people pay lip-service to the culture of the business and the type of enterprise. People that have
enjoyed careers in large corporations might have impressive CV’s but they don’t necessarily have
a grasp of what it is to work in a mid-sized company. Similarly, organizations that experience
rampant growth require very different leaders to mature businesses that need to harvest their
opportunity over a long period of time.
To work successfully, succession plans need to balance many things. It’s always a good exercise
to treat the Succession Planning Process as a topic in its own right and to get colleagues on-board
by walking through and setting out expectations on outcomes and approach.
But you could do worse than think about how the Royal Family do it.