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Succession Planning - Urgency and Pitfalls

Succession Planning – Urgency and Pitfalls

In this third article of a series, we are going to look at Succession Planning – It’s urgency and pitfalls.

Our first two articles covered the key features of Succession Planning – how to do it, etc.  In Article 1, we covered the following questions.  What is succession planning?  What positions in your organization should be included?  When should we do succession planning?  How much time should we spend on succession planning?  How do you select candidates for higher positions?  What is the purpose of succession planning?

And in Article 2 we discussed the following issues.  What kinds of things make formal succession planning urgent?  Does the position require a mentor?  How to choose a mentor.  How long will the development of a candidate take?  Can there be more than one candidate for a given position?

Furthermore, what kinds of things make succession planning urgent?

We briefly touched on this question in our first article. To expand on what we listed, we should look at additional factors which can influence the process and the need. While there are normal activities which require people to be ready and able to move up, other factors may require people to step in quickly. When economic activity changes, you may need to make staffing changes. When your sales increase, you may need to fill openings urgently – hopefully with someone already on deck. If sales slow considerably, you may need to trim staff, combine positions and change responsibilities. This may entail needing a different set of skills that may not be available in the current staff. Technological changes in your production process or products/services may also create openings for new talent or skills.

How does succession planning fit with strategic planning? 

In your strategic planning, you may determine your organization has an opportunity in a market area outside your current markets. Therefore, your strategic planning should include analysis of both personnel, capital investment and other resources needed to enter this new area. Ideally, because of your succession planning, you have already developed someone who fits this new area perfectly. You may, however, need to add staff with different skills and knowledge that your current staff doesn’t have.

Similarly, if you decide to exit a market segment, your strategic planning should include planning for placement of that segment’s current staff. Are there valuable people in this part of the business who can be repurposed and retained? Even if they do not have all the requisite skills for other segments, good people may have a positive future in the company. In addition to their knowledge of the company, you can re-educate them to do similar or analogous jobs. They can contribute long term.  Finally, keeping them can also have a positive impact on other parts of the company.

What are common pitfalls of succession planning?

  • Over-promising.  When you select people to be candidates for higher positions, you run the risk of them failing during training. The best approach is to notify them they are being considered for promotion, but make it clear it is not guaranteed. Actual promotion will depend on their performance. Also, let them know that you may be considering others for the same position, so results will matter.
  • Poor mentoring.   It is important that whoever is the mentor of a candidate is selected for their knowledge and ability to guide. Grooming a candidate is an important part of helping assure the future of the organization. Failure to be an effective mentor hurts both the candidate and the company. Mentors must have good people skills and communication ability. They must be able to challenge and guide the candidate at the same time. No one should ever be forced to be a mentor.

What if the boss doesn’t want to do succession planning?

  • This is a tough thing to overcome. The question is “why doesn’t the boss want to do succession planning?” If only his/her position is the problem, you should probably deal with that outside of the strategic planning done with your team and limit succession planning within strategic planning to other positions. Most bosses want to plan for the future of the organization for obvious reasons. This means doing strategic planning that includes succession planning. People are the true key to success of any organization. Overcoming the boss’s reluctance to do succession planning may be a strategic issue that gets resolved over time.  It is not one that should be shoved under the rug.  Without planning for the future of those who will be operating the company, there may be no future.

Do you have a succession plan?  Is it a part of your strategic planning?  Have you planned for urgent situations and ways to prevent pitfalls?  If you’re like most people, you’d benefit from having an experienced professional lead you through the strategic planning process, so you can focus on the content of your strategies.  If you’d like to explore how you could do this, please contact me at or 616-575-3193. Center for Simplified Strategic Planning professionals have successfully conducted thousands of strategic planning meetings, and have a great understanding of how to best use your planning time.  Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning in the next few months to improve your results.

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Author Dana Baldwin

Author Dana Baldwin

Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached by email at

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