Succession Planning: Improving the Odds of Success

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Business leaders know that succession planning is essential to ensuring organizational continuity and growth. Simply stated, succession planning is the process of lining up the right people to take over important roles in the company as they open up. The process typically entails identifying and then developing promising candidates for promotion, thereby maximizing the likelihood of a smooth and successful transition.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well... it is and it isn't. Succession planning can, in fact, prove a daunting process. Some of the obstacles to doing it right include:
  • Failure to conduct a thorough job analysis of each position to be filled.
  • Lack of internal bench strength (e.g., having a weak or limited talent pool within the organization).
  • Lack of effective tools and strategies for identifying high potential employees.
  • Failure to groom high potentials for advancement within the company.
What are the potential consequences of failing to create an effective succession plan? Typically, one or more of the following can be expected:
  • Frantic or chaotic efforts to fill vital roles within the organization as openings arise (and they sometimes arise with little or no warning).
  • Uncertainty among key contributors as to where they're headed within the organization.
  • Loss of valuable time for training and development of high potentials. (This type of preparation has a major impact upon the individual's effectiveness in a new role. It dramatically increases the likelihood of success for the individual and the organization. It ought to be a priority.)
  • Intense competition among key employees who believe they are vying for promotion.
  • Marked disruption in overall organizational performance.
In order to avoid such poor outcomes, organizations must be proactive. They need to do each of the following:
  • Identify the core skills and capabilities associated with success for each key position.
  • Evaluate the various competencies of their most promising employees.
  • Develop these talented folks so that they're prepared to take on the myriad challenges and responsibilities of their future positions.
Once a company knows what it needs and who it's got, it's in a great position to develop talent internally and look outward to fill in the gaps. This sets the stage not only for intelligent succession planning but also for implementation of this most essential business activity.

About the Author

Liz Bywater, PhD, is a consultant and coach to corporate executives, professionals, and independent business owners. She consults, writes, and speaks on a variety of work-related topics, including workplace performance, outstanding leadership, effective communication skills, and work-life balance.

Dr. Bywater sits on the advisory board for Par Excellence magazine and is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Advancement of Consulting, the Cornell Entrepreneur Network, and Women Inventing Next. She is quoted frequently in the media and has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today.

To learn more, visit her at To subscribe to her complementary e-newsletter, filled with practical tips for improving performance, send an email to

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 businesses  developments  corporate executives  potential  Liz Bywater, PhD  organizations  leadership

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