Succession planning process

Here's a five step process to follow in the succession planning process.

Matthew Reeves

February 12, 2020

Succession planning is a key part of keeping a company moving forward. There are many good reasons to have a succession plan in place including retention of knowledge, talent scarcity, skill gaps and employee engagement. 

The planning process includes identifying high-level positions that cannot remain unfilled or the organization will suffer. This includes most management and leadership positions but can apply to any role within the company. Given the unpredictability of employment, it is important to have a succession plan in place even if there is no indication the employee is leaving. This can insulate the organization against unforeseen situations that cause a sudden departure of the employee. Once the key positions have been identified, the other element of succession planning is selecting employees qualified to train to take on the new role. 

It is important to note that many organizations may put succession planning lower on the priorities list but this can put the company at risk if an employee suddenly leaves their job. It is crucial that organizations discuss and plan for succession, which ultimately protects the company’s future. 

There are several steps in the succession planning process including identifying key roles in the organization, training employees and sharing the plan with stakeholders. 

Creating a succession strategy

Each organization is different and the approach to succession planning can be customized to fit into different company cultures. A large part of creating a succession strategy involves asking some questions like what do you hope to achieve with the plan, and do you plan on job vacancies in the near future. 

Regardless of your approach, there are some key steps that need to be taken to successfully create a succession strategy. These include

Identify key positions

The first thing that a company or succession planning team needs to do is to identify those crucial roles within the organization that are essential to the future and growth of the organization. One of the best ways to do this is to start from the top down. Have a list of those positions with the most responsibility in the organization. These should include positions like the CEO, CFO and other leadership roles. Keep in mind that the goal is to identify jobs within the company that directly impact growth. If these positions were vacant it would undermine the future of the organization. 

Get on board

While the subject of succession planning can be a sensitive issue it is important that it be discussed openly. Even leaders who are reluctant to plan for their departure should concede that the future of the company is too important to leave to chance. Moreover, employees who are being trained for future leadership roles should learn from those currently in the position. This workplace mentorship scenario will only be successful if the leader accepts their role as a mentor. Part of the succession training process is to retain the knowledge of the current leader by passing it along to their successor. Mentorship is the ideal way to train employees to take on future leadership roles within the company. 

Find qualified successors

There are two ways to find a qualified successor for a leadership role. One is to look internally at employees that are already with the company and are demonstrating the capability to take on a management position. The other way to find a successor is to look externally. This path can be more expensive and needs more planning and preparation. However, if there are no eligible candidates within the organization, searching externally may be the best option. If you are going to use internal employees as successors, you can start training and preparing them right away. You can connect them with their mentor or the individual they may take the reigns from in the future. Other training resources include workshops or courses in leadership. Alternatively, if you will be looking for a successor from outside the company, you will need to prepare some documents and training materials for the candidate. These should include important and relevant information that will help them understand the company, its values and vision, etc. 

Formalize a training plan

Once you have identified the roles you need to have a succession plan for and you have candidates in mind, it is time to formalize the plan. This includes creating a timeline for the training process and what is expected of them. By being transparent with your succession plans you can avoid awkward situations and the potential that those employees you want to train as future leaders may seek employment somewhere else. If you fail to communicate the succession plan to employees you may find they look for career advancement elsewhere because they didn’t know there were opportunities at your organization. Moreover, the employees that you identify as being qualified successors may not be interested in the role. This is why it is best to discuss your plans openly.

Test it

There may be an opportunity to put your succession plan to the test. This could be done around holidays or when the leader takes a vacation. Allow the successor to step into the role so they can get a better understanding of the position. This can help you and the successor identify any skill gaps or training that still needs to be done. 


Succession planning should be seen as an investment in the organization’s future and its growth. That is why it is important to have a plan for creating a solid succession plan strategy. The way your organization approaches succession planning may be different depending on your company size and culture. However, there are many succession planning tools that can help you get started. Workplace mentoring programs often play a big part in succession training. If you want more information on creating a successful mentoring program for your organization, contact Together for a free mentoring software demo to see how it can help you develop mentorships in your company. 

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