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Introduction to Succession Planning

Building Bench Strength in Your Organization

By Bonnie K. Snyder, M.Ed.

Succession Planning is an ongoing system to prepare high potential candidates through:

  • mentoring

  • training, and

  • job rotation

to ensure continuity of talent in critical positions. It means having the right people in the right place at the right time.

It’s often easy to eliminate or put projects, programs, or other initiatives on the back burner during tough economic times. If you’ve put Succession Planning on the back burner, either as a new initiative or an existing system, it’s time to consider the impact to your organization. What if a senior executive is erased forever from your organization chart? How long would it take to fill that position and guarantee leadership continuity?

As a business leader, you need to be thinking about both the short-term and long-term needs of your organization. Building bench strength is critical to meeting your long-term goals, while maintaining leadership continuity within your organization. Succession Planning is key to building bench strength in your organization.

There are three basic steps to successful Succession Planning:

  • design,

  • implement, and

  • sustain.

All three steps are necessary for success. The complexity of each step and the scope of your Succession Planning system can easily be customized to meet the demands of your organization in the short-term while being strategic to meet the long-term needs.


Select the key positions where you believe you would be most vulnerable if the incumbent was erased from the organization chart. Positions to consider are those that require critical/scarce skills and/or knowledge and leadership of mission critical initiatives. Identify the key competencies required for each position. Develop a method to identify potential candidates and tools to assess t their ability to perform the competencies. Create a template for individual development plans and a means to monitor and review progress.


Now that you’ve planned your work, it’s time to work your plan. Select and assess candidates. Create development plans based on the gap between the assessment results and the level of competency required for the position. Assign a mentor/coach to the candidate. Collect data on the candidate’s progress, how the mentor/coach relationship is working, and the development process in general. On-going dialog and honest, constructive feedback is the best method of data collection.

Make adjustments to the system as needed and deploy development alternatives if necessary. Reassess the candidate to determine if they are ready to fill the position or if they will require further development. If there isn’t an open position, strategic job rotation provides a means for continued development while providing a challenging assignment for the candidate.


For a Succession Planning program to be sustainable, it must be on-going.  It’s important to monitor and review progress. Regularly/frequently update the system, and conduct on-going progress reviews with the candidates and their mentors. Discussion of critical positions and progress of high potential candidates should occur regularly at management meetings.

Conley, Terence; Harkins, Phil; and Socol, Mark R., Best Practices for Succession Planning, Lexington, MA, Pfeiffer, 2007.

Bonnie Snyder


Bonnie Snyder is a Senior Consultant with Strategic Workplace Solutions, Inc. She helps larger organizations successfully plan and implement organizational change initiatives.

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