succession planning

Succession Planning: How to Pass the Torch Without Getting Burned in 6 Simple Steps


Unexpected turnover happens, but if you master these simple succession planning steps, those turnovers won’t turn into a major organizational crisis.

Succession planning is one of those crucial processes designed to make sure that another employee can step into a key organizational role in the event that a essential employee resigns, retires, gets sick, is fired, or even dies. A good succession plan is your shield against that “Uh-oh!” moment when someone leaves the company and no one knows how to do what they did.

Besides avoiding that “Uh-oh!” moment, there are lot of advantages to succession planning for both the employee and the employer:

  • Employees know that they are part of the plan and can see their next potential opportunity with the organization.
  • Employees can gain additional skills, education, and training in order to fill a potential role in the future.
  • Employees see and understand their career path, and it reinforces career development, opportunity, and employer branding.
  • Employers can rely on staff to carry on in the event of change, and mission, vision, and organizational goals remain intact.
  • Prepared employees can step up if your company grows or re-organizes.
  • Your organization is well-prepared for all contingencies.

And the good news is that succession planning isn’t as difficult as it may sound.

1. Pinpoint Those Essential Positions

Each department within your organization has essential personnel that your company can’t operate effectively without. It may be that one person who “knows where all the bodies are” and handles a lot of different duties, or someone simply in charge of pivotal tasks within the department.

Either way, you need to identify each critical position. To make it easy, you may want to put these critical positions into a spreadsheet where you can add information in the steps below.

Here’s some help finding those essential positions:

  • What are the 5 positions that would leave the day-to-day operations a wreck?
  • What are the 5 positions that would damage strategic planning or leadership?
  • What are the 5 positions that would put a halt to major or specialized company projects?

2. Determine Competencies for Essential Positions

Once you’ve been able to identify critical positions within your organization, then you can evaluate each position to uncover the core competencies required for each one. In some cases, it may be particular skills, but other key positions may just require a specific knowledge transfer to make the transition.

Again, enter this information into your spreadsheet to keep it organized.

3. Find and Assess Potential Successors

In many cases, it will be clear who the successor should be if a position should unexpectedly open. Whether it’s the next person in line or someone out of a pool of talent in the department, sometimes a successor is obvious.

But don’t let what appears like an obvious successor stop you from assessing all your options and conducting talent reviews to discover who would be the best fit both today and far into the future.

As your plan develops and you implement it over time, specific people will be trained to fill crucial positions. That’s where succession planning templates come in handy.

4. Involve managers and leaders

Not only do leaders throughout your company often know where hidden talent lies in your organization, they may also have keen insight into pivotal positions of which you’re unaware.

5. Make your succession and knowledge transfer plans

Once you’ve discovered which roles are crucial, what skills and knowledge are needed, and identified potential talent, the only thing left is to put your plan into writing so it can be implemented.

Make a specific succession plan for each position, and document everything so that it provides a mechanism for clearly defining timelines, roles, and responsibilities. Think of it as a complete action plan for each position.

6. Evaluate and monitor

Watching your plans in action is an important part of the succession planning process. You need to see what needs improvement and what’s working well to be truly successful with each of your succession plans. Each of your action plans should be reviewed on a regular basis, as well as whenever one is put into action.


We all know that unexpected turnover happens, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared when it does. If you follow the simple succession planning steps here, then unexpected turnovers won’t turn into a disaster for your organization or a huge headache for you.


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