5 Steps to Developing a Solid Business Succession Plan


In the business world, a succession plan is the process of developing existing employees to move up within the organization. Rather than hiring new people to fill every open role, existing employees can earn the skills and experience necessary to attain the positions that will not only help them forge ahead in their careers but also enable the organization to mature and grow.


Although an important component of workforce planning, a succession plan isn’t about always knowing upfront who should be developed and who shouldn’t. Instead, it benefits HR and business leaders to spend a period of time — sometimes several months to a year or more — identifying employees who have the true potential to advance and then expending the resources to help them do so. 


When you develop employees to advance within the organization, you can:

  • Retain the talent you’ve already invested in

  • Increase employee engagement

  • Make more cost-effective personnel decisions 


Here’s a five-step guide to creating and implementing a business succession plan that works for your organization.


Step 1: Understand Churn

Every organization experiences employee turnover, or churn, at some point and to some degree — and no position is sacred. Understanding the churn in your organization is foundational to any succession planning strategy. 


Start by identifying the churn rate for each of the key roles in your organization, and what the implications of that churn rate might be. For example, you could find out what the day-to-day impact of a certain position is on your overall business or a department — think in terms of efficiency or revenue, etc. — or how it might hurt operations if the current person in a specific position leaves.


Step 2: Target Successors

When you think about who should move into a key role, the obvious candidate is the next person in line, likely a subordinate or someone a level down on the management rung. But don’t overlook the less-obvious candidates who may have hidden potential or show real gumption.


The next step in your succession planning process is to create a list of potential successors for each key role. Some employees may not have the immediate skills or experience to directly move into an open role, but through skills and personality assessments, you may find a candidate you didn’t think about initially who nevertheless shows promise and can be trained up.


Step 3: Train & Develop

Creating and implementing a phased learning, training, and development plan is the next step, to help employees acquire the specific skills and capabilities they need to move up. With a list of potential successors in hand, expose those employees to future roles and opportunities by having them spend time shadowing others and observing different functions. 


Depending on the nature of the job, you may also ask them to do an actual rotation in it so they can get a practical feel for what’s required. It’s also helpful to connect potential successors with mentors who can offer real-world knowledge and tips about certain roles or give general career advice. You may also offer a more formalized training program at this point.


Step 4: Test & Assess

A great way to determine if you’re on the right path with your succession plan is to do a trial run. The next time someone in a key role has planned time off, arrange for a potential successor to take over their duties while that person is out. Or, have a boss and subordinate switch roles for a week.


During these experiments, make note of the strengths and weaknesses you see. If your plan starts falling apart at this step, maybe you need to go back and review or shore up a few things in the previous steps. Make any adjustments that are necessary for the next attempt, and so when the moment for actual promotion or succession arrives, the transition is smooth.


Step 5: Incorporate into Recruitment 

The beauty of having a business succession plan is that it not only keeps you aware at all times of the critical roles within your organization, but also the skills and competencies that may be needed in the future. 


The last step takes what you’ve learned and applies it to recruitment and workforce planning. One way to do this is to list any “nice to have” skills or experience in your job descriptions. This helps you attract quality talent to fill your immediate needs with the likelihood the candidates will also have the underlying aptitude for bigger roles down the road.


A Succession Plan as Part of Position Management

Creating and implementing a succession plan is much easier and more efficient within a position management framework. 


Using a position management solution that allows you to store, access, and report on current and historical position-level data, you gain accurate and much broader visibility into your organization’s unique personnel needs and trends, giving you assurance that your succession plan makes sense and is actionable in both the short and long term.


To learn more about how position management can help with your succession planning strategy, download the white paper



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John Cuellar

John Cuellar

John is responsible for SyncHR’s product, engineering, and system operations teams. He is focused on streamlining the business processes related to HCM and finance by distributing SyncHR to all members of the workforce and by using patented security and workflow to control these developments. John is also responsible for delivering SyncHR as a cloud based application with “extreme ratio” financial metrics.

He has a background in engineering, workplace applications, and business administration, bringing over 25 years of experience deploying strategic HCM applications. Prior to co-founding SyncHR, John was the CEO of Harbor Technologies, since acquired by Mellon Financial Corporation. Previous to Harbor Technology Group, he spent an internship with the Swiss Bank Corporation in their derivatives pricing and trading group and also worked as a senior manager for the US Navy. John received his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and his Master of Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.

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