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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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succession planning

7 things about succession planning most people don’t know


COVID highlights the need for strong leadership and we need to start planning for what’s next now.

The global pandemic is prompting major shifts in the workplace.  

Older workers will start leaving the workforce in greater numbers.  Before 2020, more older Americans – those ages 65 and older – were working than at any time since the turn of the century, and today’s older workers are spending more time on the job than their peers in previous years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics

Older workers were overrepresented in the workforce, while those 18-29 years old were underrepresented.  

Now, more older workers are looking hard at their 401(k)s, IRA, SEPs, and their savings, and they are wondering whether or not they want to keep working. At the same time, many college-aged people are looking for work opportunities instead of pursuing more education.

Forward-thinking organizations are planning for future success now.  They are assessing their talent pool and determining what skills sets they will need in the future.  They know that agile, adaptable companies will continue to need smart, r4esponsive leaders who can solve problems, think critically, and innovate.  Future leaders will need to be strategic planners, with solid industry experience, in addition to knowing more about regulations, budgets, taxation, global events, and human resource requirements. Future senior leaders will need to be even better at blending people and technology.   

Succession planning is not just for the owner, president, or CEO. It is for every critical position or knowledge-based position in the organization.
What if your talented COO was offered a CEO position, would that slow down your operations? 
What if your CFO got sick and could not work for 6 months? 
What if your sales VP decided to start their own business?
What if your IT leader had to take a leave of absence to care for an aging parent?
Do you have people who can step into their critical roles?
Are you taking an active role in developing people now, so that they can move into greater roles and responsibilities later?

Succession planning is not just at the C-suite level. 

Many people think succession planning is just about the person who’s sitting in the chair at the top, but every position in your organization is important. Every job needs to have some kind of succession plan. Proactive leaders are planning for not only new leadership at the top, but leadership and talent throughout the organization. 

How do forward-thinking companies start the succession planning process?

  1. Human resource professionals need to be part of the strategic planning teams. With unemployment levels higher than they were a year ago, now is a great time for human resources to be more active looking for top talent. I was a Human Resource Director, and it was frustrating when leadership would surprise me with the idea of new hire that was outside of our strategic plan, or promise a salary that we could not deliver.  Great companies effectively utilize their HR departments to constantly attract and recruit great talent at all levels of the organization, and that means HR needs a seat at the decision-making table.


  2. Be open about planned and unplanned leadership changes to instill confidence in your employees. Be transparent.  Keep everyone in the organization informed about the strategic plan, and the people needed to make that plan a reality.  It is likely that people in your organization are wondering what happens when the president or CEO leaves.  Who’s going to fill those shoes?  Will the new leader keep the current team?  Should the current team be looking for other jobs?  Stop the unnecessary speculation and uncertainty by being transparent about leadership movements, timelines, and implications.


  3. Matriculate and mentor top talent. Talk openly with young professionals about their future opportunities, which includes when and how they can be promoted.  Don’t leave great people wondering whether or not they should stay with your organization. 
    They want to know:

    *What job can I look forward to filling in a few years?
    *What are my future opportunities with this company?
    *How can I develop the skills and characteristics I need to be promoted?
    Supervisors need to conduct frequent and honest assessments that are coordinated with the strategic plan in mind. It is wrong for leadership not to tell future potentials that they are counting on them to move up.  Don’t risk losing talent because you assume they know what you are thinking.  Chances are, they may become discouraged and take another opportunity elsewhere.  It is also wrong to promise a promotion or a new project opportunity and not deliver it.


  4. Assure customers that leadership changes will increase value for them.  Clients need assurances that they can count on you, both now and in the future.  Your loyal customers want to work with you for the answers and products you provide, and they want to make sure that will continue.  If your leadership legacy is in jeopardy, they make seek solutions with your competitors.


  5. Include outside perspectives. Boards of directors, corporate advisors, and recruiting firms can provide valuable ideas on how the organization can adapt to changing market needs and the talent needed in the organization.  They can also be helpful members of the succession planning team.


  6. Create a succession planning transition team. While most employees assume that the president or CEO is thinking about and planning for leadership succession, surveys indicate only a small number actually are.  They are caught up in the day-to-day operations of running the company.  There are crises today that need to be handled.  And some top leaders just don’t want to think about a time when they are not in charge.  Smart companies have a diverse team of leaders from throughout the organization who meet regularly to plan for who comes next. 

    7. Start planning now. The world is an uncertain place. During times of uncertainty, challenge, and changes, we need leadership and contingency plans.  It is leadership that combats panic, fear and frustration.

People in charge need to know what’s going to happen next, and they need to plan for the future.  Employees need strong guidance and direction like never before.  They are looking for stability. They want to be part of an organization that gives them purpose and meaning, and they want to work with people who can deliver results.  Proper succession planning is a large component to building and keeping trust. 

When we come out of the other side of this crisis – and we will come out of this current crisis – you want to be the company is stable and reliable, which is the direct result of proactive planning and the right leadership in the right role at the right time.

For the 5-Minute Succession Plan, a free chapter of the book, Who Comes Next? Leadership Succession Planning Made Easy, and other resources on succession planning, please visit



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