Succession planning

Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. In dictatorships, it aims for continuity of leadership, preventing a chaotic power struggle by preventing a power vacuum. In monarchies, it is usually settled by the order of succession. In business, it entails developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available. Taken narrowly, "replacement planning" for key roles is the heart of succession planning. Effective succession or talent-pool management concerns itself with building a series of feeder groups up and down the entire leadership pipeline or progression (Charan, Drotter, Noel, 2001). In contrast, replacement planning is focused narrowly on identifying specific back-up candidates for given senior management positions. For the most part position-driven replacement planning (often referred to as the "truck scenario") is a forecast, which research indicates does not have substantial impact on outcomes.

Fundamental to the succession-management process is an underlying philosophy that argues that top talent in the corporation must be managed for the greater good of the enterprise. Merck and other companies argue that a "talent mindset" must be part of the leadership culture for these practices to be effective.

Succession planning is a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company. Through your succession planning process, you recruit superior employees, develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepare them for advancement or promotion into ever more challenging roles. Actively pursuing succession planning ensures that employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role. As your organization expands, loses key employees, provides promotional opportunities, and increases sales, your succession planning guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill new roles.

According to a 2006 Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey, slightly more than one third of independent business owners plan to exit their business within the next 5 years and within the next 10 years two-thirds of owners plan to exit their business. The survey also found that small and medium-sized enterprises are not adequately prepared for their business succession: only 10% of owners have a formal, written succession plan; 38% have an informal, unwritten plan; and the remaining 52% do not have any succession plan at all. The results are backed by a 2004 CIBC survey which suggests that succession planning is increasingly becoming a critical issue. By 2010, CIBC estimates that $1.2 trillion in business assets are poised to change hands.

Research indicates many succession-planning initiatives fall short of their intent (Corporate Leadership Council, 1998). "Bench strength," as it is commonly called, remains a stubborn problem in many if not most companies. Studies indicate that companies that report the greatest gains from succession planning feature high ownership by the CEO and high degrees of engagement among the larger leadership team[1]

Companies that are well known for their succession planning and executive talent development practices include: GE, Honeywell, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble.

Research indicates that clear objectives are critical to establishing effective succession planning.[2] These objectives tend to be core to many or most companies that have well-established practices:

In other companies these additional objectives may be embedded in the succession process:

Business Exit Planning

With the global proliferation of Small and Mid-sized Enterprises (SME’s), issues of business succession and continuity have become increasingly common. When the owner of a business becomes incapacitated or passes away, it is often necessary to shut down an otherwise healthy business. Or in many instances, successors inherit a healthy business, which is forced into bankruptcy because of lack of available liquidity to pay inheritance taxes and other taxes. Proper planning helps avoid many of the problems associated with succession and transfer of ownership.

Business Exit Planning is a body of knowledge which began developing in the United States towards the end of the 20th century, and is now spreading globally. A Business Exit Planning exercise begins with the shareholder(s) of a company defining their objectives with respect to an eventual exit, and then executing their plan, as the following definition suggests:

Business Exit Planning is the process of explicitly defining exit-related objectives for the owner(s) of a business, followed by the design of a comprehensive strategy and road map that take into account all personal, business, financial, legal, and taxation aspects of achieving those objectives, usually in the context of planning the leadership succession and continuity of a business. Objectives may include maximizing (or setting a goal for) proceeds, minimizing risk, closing a Transaction quickly, or selecting an investor that will ensure that the business prospers. The strategy should also take into account contingencies such as illness or death.[3]

All personal and business aspects should be taken into consideration. This is also a good time to plan an efficient transfer from the point of view of possibly applicable estate taxes, capital gains taxes, or other taxes.

Sale of a business is not the only form of exit. Forms of exit may also include Initial Public Offering, Management Buyout, passing on the firm to next-of-kin, or even bankruptcy. Bringing on board financial strategic or financial partners may also be considered a form of exit, to the extent that it may help ensure succession and survival of the business.

In developed countries, the so-called “baby boomer” demographic wave is now reaching the stage where serious consideration needs to be given to exit. Hence, the importance of Business Exit Planning is expected to further increase in the coming years.

Field of succession management

There is a substantial body of literature on the subject of succession planning. The first book that addressed the topic fully was "Executive Continuity" by Walter Mahler. Mahler was responsible in the 1970s for helping to shape the General Electric succession process which became the gold standard of corporate practice. Mahler, who was heavily influenced by Peter Drucker, wrote three other books on the subject of succession, all of which are out of print. His colleagues, Steve Drotter and Greg Kesler, as well as others, expanded on Mahler's work in their writings. "The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company," by Charan, Drotter and Noel is noteworthy. A new edited collection of materials, edited by Marshall Goldsmith, describes many contemporary examples in large companies.[4]

Most large corporations assign a process owner for talent and succession management. Resourcing of the work varies widely from numbers of highly dedicated internal consultants to limited professional support embedded in the roles of human resources generalists. Often these staff resources are separate from external staffing or recruiting functions. Some companies today seek to integrate internal and external staffing. Others are more inclined to integrate succession management with the performance management process in order simplify the work for line managers.

Family business

Arieu proposed a model in order to classify family firms into four scenarios: political, openness, foreign management and natural succession.

POLITICAL SCENARIO: This is the case of a company linked to a large family, where it is expected that through inheritance, the property was spray quickly, possibly faster than the growth of own business, resulting in a dividend per head lower and lower. Identifying suitable members in the family can incorporate to address and possibly distinguish who may occupy the general direction afterwards. However, the existence of many members in the family can turn into conflicts of power, making it necessary to establish agreements and occasionally reorganize the business in terms of those individuals who, because of the obvious professional and human qualities can be recognized as leaders. In many cases this may mean separate reorganization to create new companies and business units.

OPENESS: When members of the next generations are numerous and among them is not possible to identify a person who possesses the characteristics necessary to assume leadership positions with expertise in family business, we have a scenario that we call Open, since the strategy more suitable for this type of organization is to shift some capital to others who can provide not only management skills but also liquidity for family members. This will succeed in securing the future of the business, creating more value for society and retention of jobs for their employees, not to please the family, getting money and avoid future complications.

FOREIGN MANAGEMENT: This scenario occurs when family members who control the business are not many, and yet, not having any of its members with a natural profile of leadership succession when they choose to appoint a non-family CEO .

NATURAL SUCCESSION: Families seeking to preserve its legacy business are the most favorable conditions in the presence of a stage of natural succession. This is the case of a company controlled by a few families, few heirs who in turn have identified among them a worthy successor, a strong name also is associated with the adequacy enough to drive its growth, the ability to run the organization, understanding market and commitment which means only a part of the family patrimony is also a source of value to society, other shareholders, customers, suppliers and even their own employees (stakeholders).this will help in improved succession planning.

Arieu Family Business Succession Model (Spanish)

The role of advisors

A Prior preparation needs to be done for the replacement of a CEO in family firms. The role of advisors is important as they help with the transition of leadership between the current generation leaders and the successors. Advisors help family owned businesses establish their own leadership skills. This process is relatively long if the successors want to be accepted by all employees. They need to take higher managing position gradually to be respected. During this process, the successors are asked to develop different skills such as leadership. This is where the role of advisors fully exemplifies its importance. It is when the managing position is shared between the first generation leader, the second and the advisors. An advisor helps with communication because emotional factors between family members can badly affect the company. The advisors help manage everything during a predetermined period of time and make the succession process less painful and eventful for everybody. In these cases, an interim leadership is usually what is best for the company. The employees can get accustomed to changes while getting to know the future CEO.[5][6]

Process and practices

Companies devise elaborate models to characterize their succession and development practices. Most reflect a cyclical series of activities that include these fundamentals:

In many companies, over the past several years, the emphasis has shifted from planning job assignments to development, with much greater focus on managing key experiences that are critical to growing global business leaders. North American companies tend to be more active in this regard, followed by European and Latin American countries.

PepsiCo, IBM and Nike are current examples of the so-called "game planning" approach to succession and talent management. In these and other companies annual reviews are supplemented with an ongoing series of discussions among senior leaders about who is ready to assume larger roles. Vacancies are anticipated and slates of names are prepared based on highest potential and readiness for job moves. Organization realignments are viewed as critical windows of opportunity to create development moves that will serve the greater good of the enterprise.

Assessment is a key practice in effective succession planning. There is no widely accepted formula for evaluating the future potential of leaders, but there are many tools and approaches that continue to be used today, ranging from personality and cognitive testing to team-based interviewing and simulations and other assessment center methods. Elliott Jaques and others have argued for the importance of focusing assessments narrowly on critical differentiators of future performance. Jaques developed a persuasive case for measuring candidates' ability to manage complexity, formulating a robust operational definition of business intelligence.[7] The Cognitive Process Profile (CPP) psychometric is an example of a tool used in succession planning to measure candidates' ability to manage complexity according to Jaques' definition.

Companies struggle to find practices that are effective and practical. It is clear leaders who rely on instinct and gut to make promotion decisions are often not effective. Research indicates that the most valid practices for assessment are those that involve multiple methods and especially multiple raters[8] "Calibration meetings," composed of senior leaders can be quite effective judging a slate of potential senior leaders with the right tools and facilitation.

With organisations facing increasing complexity and uncertainty in their operating environments some suggest a move away from competence based approaches.[9] In a future that is increasingly hard to predict leaders will need to see opportunity in volatility, spot patterns in complexity, find creative solutions to problems, keep in mind long term strategic goals for the organisation and wider society, and hold onto uncertainty until the optimum time to make a decision.

Professionals in the field, including academics, consultants and corporate practitioners, have many strongly held views on the topic. Best practice is a slippery concept in this field. There are many thought pieces on the subject that readers may find valuable such as "Debunking 10 Top Talent Management Myths", Talent Management Magazine, Doris Sims, December 2009. Research-based writing is more difficult to find. The Corporate Leadership Council, The Best Practice Institute (BPI) and the Center for Creative Leadership, as well as the Human Resources Planning Society are sources of some effective research-based materials.

Over the years, organizations have changed their approach to succession planning. What used to be a rigid, confidential process of hand-picking executives to be company successors is now becoming a more fluid, transparent practice that identifies high-potential leaders and incorporates development programs preparing them for top positions.[10] Today, corporations consider succession planning a part of a holistic strategy called “talent management”. According to the company PEMCO, “talent management is defined as the activities and processes throughout the employee life cycle: recruiting and hiring, onboarding, training, professional development, performance management, workforce planning, leadership development, career development, cross-functional work assignments, succession planning, and the employee exit process”.[11] When managing internal talent, companies must “know whether the right people, are moving at the right pace into the right jobs at the right time”.[12] An effective succession planning strategy, coupled with solid career development programs, will help paint a more promising future for employees.


  1. Kesler, 2002
  2. Kesler, 2002
  3. Nemethy, Les (2011). Business Exit Planning: Options, Value Enhancement, and Transaction Management for Business Owners. USA: John Wiley & Sons. p. 178. ISBN 047090531X.
  4. Goldsmith and Carter, 2010.
  5. Salvato, carlo; Corbetta, Guido. "Transitional Leadership of Advisors as a Facilitator of successors' Leadership construction" (PDF). Family business Review. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  6. Davis, John. "Managing the Family Business: It Takes a Village". Harvard Business School. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  7. Jaques, 1989
  8. McCall, 1998
  9. Carroll, Levy and Richmond, 2008
  10. Downs, 2012
  11. Downs, 2012
  12. Cogner & Fulmer, 2009

Template:Downs, L.J. (2012). Integrated talent management: Building a strategy one block at a time. T+D, 66(8), 42-47. Retrieved April 28, 2013 from Business Source Complete. Template:Conger, J. A., & Fulmer, R. M. (2003). Developing your leadership pipeline. Harvard Business Review, 81(12), 76-84. Retrieved April 28, 2013 from Business Source Complete.

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