Rethinking succession planning 


If your organisation has given any thought to future success, there’s no doubt you will have discussed succession planning. You might even have someone in mind to replace you when it’s time to move on. Succession planning is often thought about late in the game – someone needs to leave, or change their position, and finally, management is forced to think about how to fill their shoes. This mindset needs to change. 

The reality of succession planning 

People will always need to be replaced in organisations. Whether it’s retirement, an exciting new offer elsewhere, or even tragic circumstances, the reality of any organisation is that people are always moving around, leaving old roles and needing to take on new ones. 

Succession planning is often thought of as just that – a plan. Unfortunately, life often has other plans. People leave unexpectedly and tragedy can strike without warning. It’s great to have a plan, but it’s also great to be ready for the curveballs that can (and will) be thrown your way. 

Shifting the ‘Who’s Next?’ attitude

Many leaders will have thought about who might be next to replace them or to replace other positions in their team. Some people will even catch your eye and you’ll know they’re ones to watch as you plan for who might take over important positions in your organisation. However, a few impressive shows of competence doesn’t make a great leader – as you well know. Experience isn’t everything. 

Succession planning is much like recruitment, and just as throughout that process, it’s about more than just experience. It’s important to consider: 

  • Skills 
  • Personality traits 
  • Goals 
  • Values 

Rather than thinking about who might be next, it’s more important to be focusing on developing every team member each day, week, month, and year, as they become people who are capable at adapting and furthering your organisation’s success in a variety of roles. 

Succession planning hinges on development 

In a Harvard Business Review article, Jay Conger and Robert Fulmer explore the idea that succession planning is more than just picking out the best and brightest and hoping they’re up for the task. 

“Succession management must be a flexible system oriented toward developmental activities, not a rigid list of high-potential employees and the slots they might fill.” 

“Leadership development, as traditionally practiced, focuses on one-off educational events, but research at the Centre for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, has shows that participants often return to the office from such events energised and enthusiastic only to be stifled by the reality of corporate life.” 

Succession planning starts from day one as you develop and discover the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and it’s clearly more than just formal training. It can be developed through: 

  • Mentorship 
  • Development days 
  • Reviews 
  • Coaching 
  • Leaders delegating with purpose
  • Learning in real time 
  • And much more. 

Succession planning is not about sitting down and mapping out a certain future. It’s about creating a flexible, adaptable, prepared, and confident team who are ready to step up when the time comes. 

If you’re ready to get out of the panic mindset when a position needs to be filled, People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.