How to Conduct Succession Planning in 2023

Akshit Dangi

There’s nothing more vital to an organization’s continued growth and prosperity than deciding who’ll take over the helm and lead the people into the future. It’s a practice that has existed since ancient times for kingdoms long gone but has evolved far beyond simply having an heir take over a throne.

Yet, while most companies almost always have a long list of candidates that are ambitious about taking over key executive roles, the decision always comes down to whether or not their abilities and potential are aligned with what’s expected out of the executive role. Why is that?

The answer is simple—building a leadership bench strength is no easy task. Not to mention, succession planning, in its traditional sense, has always been a mechanical and narrow process of simply bringing up the most promising team members into top roles without giving them the proper guidance to fulfil their new set of responsibilities.

So, the question remains–how do you plan your leadership pipeline more effectively as you lead your organization into the future? More specifically, what do we understand by succession planning in 2023, and how do we go about it?

In 2023, succession planning is leadership development

Traditionally, succession planning has been defined as a Talent Management practice that helps identify individuals who can fill in high-level positions. It also aims at increasing the availability of people to take over critical roles as soon as they become vacant.

However, as we’ve discussed before, succession planning is far more than simply preparing a list of suitable candidates for key positions. It is a thorough process of preparing and grooming the candidates, not just pre-selecting them, so they can become the leaders the organization needs.

To put it simply, it's all about putting the right skills in the right place.

As such, you’ll begin to notice how organizations that have maintained a strong talent roster have focused their succession planning efforts on developing stronger leaders by

  • focusing on their career aspirations and development,
  • tracking progress, and regularly initiating dialogue on leadership with them,
  • beginning the leadership journey from the middle management itself, and
  • keeping the process flexible and transparent with the team

At the same time, it is also vital to differentiate succession planning from other forms of talent planning. Remember, succession planning is not replacement planning–that is an entirely different process of building backups for all team members. With succession - the aim is not to create backups but to build leaders with a formal, comprehensive, and a strategically sound plan.

How to conduct succession planning?

Now that we have established where succession planning stands in our current day and age, we also need to understand how to plan an organization’s succession. Well, there are three critical steps in creating a succession plan and we'll look at each in detail.

1. Identify critical roles and challenges

The process begins by identifying essential roles in the organization that current executives and managers may vacate shortly.

Now, most organizations tend to only focus on top-level positions that can lead multiple pods of an organization. However, middle management must be considered when identifying positions as they are linchpin roles that play a critical part in how an organization performs.

Along with this, it's crucial to identify significant business challenges for the next one or two years and the competencies, skills, and institutional knowledge that's essential to overcome those challenges.

2. Assess your talent roster

Once you have identified your organization’s challenges and critical roles that need to be filled, the next step is to evaluate your talent pool against the pre-established competencies to see how well-prepared they are for filling in the big shoes.

To achieve this, conduct systematic talent reviews that help identify each individual's current performance and future potential. However, make sure to initiate dialogue with other managers during this process to minimize subjectivity and maximize accuracy.

As a manager, it is important to remember that no talent is ever wasteful in an organization. Everyone has different needs and career aspirations that need to be in alignment with the organization's goals. So, while we need to focus on people with moderate to high levels of potential with succession planning, make sure not to disregard the team members that still require your coaching and guidance.

3. Prepare the succession plan

Once all reviews and career conversations have taken place with the talent reviews, it is time to prepare the plan. Within the plan, make sure to mention:

  • the role to be fulfilled and the responsibilities that come with it,
  • whether you want the candidate to replace an incumbent or will you be creating a new position for the role,
  • the current potential successors' readiness based on performance and potential levels identified from talent reviews, and
  • the development plan for the potential successors replete with training modules and assignments based on career aspirations and required areas of improvement

These are the building blocks for preparing a succession plan for your organization. However, your work doesn’t end here. In fact, everything begins from here—having one-on-one coaching sessions, tracking progress, and realigning the development plans to any key results is where your work as a manager truly begins.

You probably came here looking for the process of creating a succession plan, and well, we have delivered. But there’s something we want to ask you - what do you wish to achieve with a succession plan?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your organization in need of successors at the moment?
  • Are there any possible business challenges that would potentially require new leadership?
  • Do you wish to measure the attrition rate among high-potential individuals or perhaps the number of leadership and managerial roles being fulfilled internally and externally?

As you find the answers to such questions, you’ll realize there’s a time and place for succession planning. It is crucial to establish whether your organization requires successors at the minute or not.

Succession planning: The mistakes you need to avoid

Even if you have established that your organization needs succession planning, be careful. Succession planning is also a minefield where all the rigorous planning and reviewing can go to waste with a single mistake. 

Fret not, though, for we know where the mines are and are here to guide you through the field. Here are the don’ts of successor planning:

Choosing a single successor for a role

This is a big no-no as succession planning is a flexible and continuously evolving process. Relying on a single successor and their development for a critical role can make it challenging to fill the vacancy should they decide to leave the company or pursue a different role/department. So, make sure to have multiple suitable candidates for any given role.

Leaving the entire process up to HR

It is often the case that the HRs team is held responsible for planning an organization’s succession all by themselves. However, HR seldom has enough insight into the organization’s talent pool to be able to assess the potential of the employees to find successors for critical positions. - Collecting said insights is, simply put, cumbersome for someone who doesn’t work with the candidates closely on a daily basis. As such, managers in direct contact with their team members and other executive leaders must play an active role in succession planning.

Focusing solely on performance

We said this before with our talent reviews, and we’ll say it again—assessing your talent based on past performance alone is completing only one half of a whole. When it comes to succession planning, an individual’s potential plays an arguably more significant role in determining whether they are suitable for a critical role.

Missing out on continuous performance management

According to research by Deloitte, 91% of business organizations that adopted a continuous performance management model now have better data for driving people decisions. So, miss out on continuous performance management, and you’re essentially ignoring large chunks of data that can help improve your succession planning process.

Find out how Mesh enables continuous performance in organizations.

Stopping development with successful succession

This is something that many organizations are guilty of—as soon as the candidate takes up the position they’ve been preparing for, their training and development slow down to a crawl. This should be avoided in case where individuals take up leadership roles for the first time and may not have adequate experience in actually handling the role.

Utilizing a single framework for all

One of the biggest mistakes one can make when planning their company’s succession is using a single plan for all organization members. This is not the case, as every key position and challenge requires a different set of competencies and skills that only a specific division of people can fulfil at a time. The convenience of using a single template for every succession plan may seem tempting, but you must go the extra mile to tailor the plan to each situation.

Falling prey to biases

Another great huddle that every manager engaged in succession planning must overcome is falling prey to biases. So, watch out for the following biases when planning successors within your company:

  • The Halo Effect: Letting first impressions govern your opinion of an individual
  • The Contrast Effect: Assessing an individual by solely drawing comparisons with others.
  • Similarity Bias: Thinking highly of an individual due to sharing similarities with self.
  • Conformity Bias: Assessing a team member based on what others think of them.
  • Confirmation Bias: Favoring information that aligns with your personal beliefs.

So, those are the mines you must avoid when traversing the land of succession planning. As long as you look for these seven mistakes, you’ve surely got succession planning in the bag.

Succession planning must pave way for promising leadership

Succession planning can’t always be easy—we can all agree on that. But, given the current landscape of the corporate world, succession planning is more critical than ever before, with an ocean of talent available. But given the narrow nature of succession planning, you must follow the idea that your organization needs a succession plan not just to increase its longevity but ensure that it brings out the best in your people and help them become who they aspire to be. As long as you remember, it’s a walk in the park.

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