Leadership Succession Planning … is not a “Nice to Have”

Oct 2010
Issue 10


If you think your organization does not need a leadership succession plan, consider the following hypothetical (yet quite realistic) scenario.

You lead the Human Resources department of a large company. You have three other departments reporting to you – Learning & Development, Compensation & Benefits, and Recruiting. You currently report to the COO and would like to advance in the organization by getting a line management job. The COO is supportive but told you that you need to find your successor before you are able move out. You have an incredibly busy job and keep meaning to put a succession plan in place not only for your department, but for the entire company.

You hear of an ideal line management job opening up. You get ready to talk to your manager about applying for it. However, that same week, your (high-performing!) head of Learning & Development takes a job with another organization. When you ask her why, she says that she felt stuck and didn’t see any opportunities for career development here. You beg her to stay, but she has already accepted the other position and is ready to leave. There are no strong internal candidates for her position.

At about the same time, your Compensation & Benefits lead surprises you by saying that he is planning to retire early to sail around the world. Again, no strong internal candidates for his position. The head of the Recruiting team has not been doing a great job lately, and you’ve been meaning to talk with him about that but haven’t had the time.

Now what? You know that your department is in trouble and there is no way you can take the other position anytime soon. Staff morale drops to a historical low in your department, your career plans are put on hold and projects are slipping … all for a lack of planning.

Click to read more.

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The CPE Field Guide hits the press!


St. Charles Publications has recently published the CPE Field Guide – a “must have” for anyone involved with the creation of CPE programs. It is a well-organized collection of tips, tools, and templates for creating effective and engaging training programs for CPAs that satisfy the rigorous standards for Continuing Professional Education (CPE). It is complete with 46 different tools organized according to a “5D” model used to chart the program creation process: Define, Design, Develop, Deliver, and Document.The CPE Field Guide paints a “big picture” view of the entire process and then provides all of the tools needed to execute successfully. Written by St. Charles consultants Ross Stern and Rod Mebane, the CPE Field Guide is available on Amazon.com.

Click here to order.

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Leadership Succession Planning … is not a “Nice to Have”

Mitigate Risk

It is well recognized in the corporate world that the company’s most valuable “assets” – its people – can (and do) walk right out the door. It may not be to join another company. It could be due to a change in family circumstances, early retirement, or untimely disability or death. Regardless of cause, leadership succession planning is the most effective way to mitigate the often substantial costs of losing good people.

Yet, despite recognition of this risk, most companies do not have a succession strategy in place. In a recent survey that we conducted to assess leadership needs, we found one of the greatest needs in responses to the question: “Does your organization have a strong succession planning process in place?” Almost 80% of respondents reported that their organizations do not. That represents pretty significant exposure.

Leadership succession plans can be very precise – where specific individuals are groomed for specific positions. They can also be generic, where the interest is simply to build “bench strength.” From our experience, a combination is most effective – where leadership knowledge and skill is generally cultivated in all professional levels and, at the same time, contingency plans are put into place for pivotal positions.

Seven Steps to Successful Succession

In general, we see seven major steps in implementing a plan for leadership succession:

  • Determine the current leadership profile. Assess key positions. Look at your current sources of leadership. Ask: Where are you strong? Where are you weak? Where do you have significant gaps?
  • Conduct scenario planning. Ask “what if” questions – What if so-and-so were to leave? What if so-and-so gets promoted? What if we land this new deal? What if we start a new product line? What if the proposed merger goes through? Then strategize as to the implications of the changes and how the changes can be effectively navigated and resourced from a leadership perspective.
  • Define desired leadership competencies. Ask: What knowledge and skill do you need in your leaders and where, in order to prepare to answer the what-ifs?
  • Assess individuals in relation to competencies. Ask: In what areas do strong performers need to develop in order to move to the next level or to take on that new assignment.
  • Put development plans in place. Ask: How can we cost-effectively create leadership development opportunities that will move our people in the right directions? (Incidentally, the answer is typically much more than training and can include on-the-job assignments, action learning, leadership shadowing, coaching, and mentoring.)
  • Hire strategically. Some of your key leadership talent will come from outside, and leadership attributes should be an explicit consideration. Ask: What will this person bring to your leadership team?
  • Continually refresh the plan. It’s a fast moving world. At least on an annual basis, ask: What changes has the company experienced, what are the leadership implications, and what should you be doing differently as a result?

Build a Leadership Culture

One of the significant benefits of thinking through the dimensions of leadership succession and putting a plan in place is that you will inherently be working to strengthen the leadership culture within your firm – with people successfully leading themselves, leading teams, leading lines of business, and leading transformational initiatives. This will serve to create a more cohesive and profitable organization that strong performers will not want to leave.

For more information on Leadership Succession Planning, please contact Kerrie Halmi at 510-336-0654.

Next month

Talent Management Strategy

The economy will rebound—what is your talent management strategy for making sure you are retaining your stars and attracting the best talent?