Succession planning needs to be well thought out and strategic, so that you have a clear point of reference and execution when an existing position becomes vacant.


It’s an inevitable truth that employees will eventually leave your business, for either voluntary or involuntary reasons. Without a plan in place to manage the changes which come with staff leaving your business, you could be in quite a predicament when it comes to easing the disruption in your business. As a great leader, you need to ensure that the appropriate steps are put in place to mitigate risks to the business and this includes preparing for staff departures.


What Is Succession Planning?

Succession planning involves creating a strategy within the business to identify potential staff within the organisation who could step in to replace another staff member who leaves the business due to retirement, resignation, redundancy, illness or other.

Given the different circumstances under which employees can exit a business, succession planning should incorporate strategies for both unforeseen or emergency scenarios and long-term transitions.

The key purpose of succession planning is to minimise the impact left when an employee leaves the business. It’s also a great exercise for identifying future leaders in a business and training employees for advancement into future roles.

Succession planning needs to be well documented into a succession strategy, so that an action plan can be referred to and implemented when an existing position becomes vacant for whatever reason.


Why Do You Need A Succession Plan?

Imagine if an employee who has been with the business for 10 years has decided to move on and resign from his position. Don’t rely on the employee providing more than their required notice period to organise a handover with 10 years’ worth of company knowledge.

Without a succession plan, you might find yourself scrambling to handover to an existing employee or go to market to find a replacement in as little as the standard 4 weeks – if you’re lucky.

If you’d had a succession plan in place, you would’ve been able to start preparing for the inevitable months ahead of time and mitigate the risk to your business. The planning would’ve allowed you to identify internal talent with the potential to replace the position, undertake a comprehensive handover and allocate sufficient time for training which all contribute to minimal business disruption.

This is just one of many examples, and quite possibly a best-case scenario. There have been some notable and high-profile unexpected company departures at C-suite level where global companies have not demonstrated an effective method of implementing strategic planning.

Poor succession planning can not only lead to significant business disruption particularly at a CEO and executive level, but it can jeopardise the interests of board directors, shareholders and other stakeholders as the company fails to demonstrate their preparation for the inevitable.


What Does A Succession Plan Look Like?


Type of succession plan

Succession planning should ideally account for both emergency scenarios and foreseeable transitions, as staff can leave a business for any number of reasons.


Where to record the succession plan

One of the key aspects of effective succession planning is recording the strategy electronically so it can be reviewed and updated accordingly, without it becoming a static document.

Recording the succession plan can be done in a standard Word document or Excel spreadsheet, and more information on how this can be structured and presented is discussed later below.

Alternatively, the plan can be recorded within governance, HR or succession planning software such as PeopleFluent, TalentGuard or Cornerstone. Online software gives you the added bonus of working within a predefined succession planning template, so you can easily enter information without having to think about how you would present the plan.


Ensure the succession plan is operational

The key is ensuring that the succession plan does not remain static. It must be operational and reviewed throughout the year. Reviewing the succession plan allows for adjustments in line with changes in staffing, business needs, risks and emerging projects.

Businesses with succession plans for C-suite and executive level employees should even consider incorporating discussions around succession planning at board meetings to strategically review the plan in the event of unforeseen departures.

In fact, succession planning is sometimes seen as a board governance matter – at least when planning for executive level staff departures.


Who should be covered in the succession plan

Your succession planning could focus on just the C-suite level, management or it could also encompass all staff in the business.

Similarly, you could decide to only focus on high-performing or high-potential employees rather than a wider selection of employees.

Who will be covered in the succession plan should be aligned with where you want to focus your resources.

The wider you cast the net in training a large number of staff, the more time and resources you will need to consider allocating in your succession plan.


How To Write A Succession Plan

Once you have identified what type of succession plan will suit the business and you have chosen not to opt for HR or governance software, the next step is choosing how to present the succession plan.

There are different ways to do this and you could create a succession planning template such as a:

– Flowchart

Similar to an organisational chart structure, position the employee who you are preparing a departure for at the top of the chart. Beneath this employee, list potential employees and their attributes such as their potential to advance in the business.

– Word document

Rather than visually defining your succession plan, you could describe the plan in detail much like you would with a business plan.

– Spreadsheet

You could use a graded system whereby you list potential employees ready to assume other positions in the business, and track their project achievements.


The key take-away is that the succession plan is that it mustn’t become a record which is never reviewed.

It will require regular review and adjustment, and doing so will also help you keep tabs on your organisational structure and staff performance.


About the Author:

Monica is a self-confessed grammar nerd and passionate advocate of diversity, equality, and cultural heritage. Communication is her trade and words and languages are her best tools, allowing her to bring creative flair to any kind of content that she creates.