People First HR Services

Succession planning key priority

Colleen Coates

The baseball term bench strength has become a metaphor for smart succession planning.

To a ball team, bench strength means the skill level and number of quality players available to substitute during any given inning. In business, it’s about the depth, the versatility and the competence of high-potential leaders who are ready to be called up to fill senior-level vacancies in the organization.

For a company to build its bench strength, it needs to incorporate a succession planning process into its talent management efforts. But according to one new report, two-fifths of employers have never used succession planning. Less than one in four organizations (23 per cent) have a formal process for succession planning in place; fewer than one in three (31 per cent) opt for a more informal system.

There is no short supply of excuses why employers have skirted the issue: succession planning is not a day-to-day priority for their business; the company does not have the proper resources to devote to the process; staff turnover rates are low; or the size and nature of the workforce makes succession planning irrelevant.

In reality, even the most resistant business leaders know they must plan for the future. Five years ago, the first baby boomers reached the age of 60, meaning there is no way to avoid the fact that the talent pool of knowledge and skilled workers will soon be insufficient to meet the needs of employers.

Identifying, assessing and selecting talent to succeed your managers must become a renewed priority for employers. Sustainable succession plans, and not merely replacement planning, should be an ongoing business practice. Done right, it will ensure that your organization has a strong bench of talent ready to be called upon and prepare it to withstand the potential crisis when there are leadership departures.

Succession planning is about investing in the future today. To begin the process, consider these six stages of development:

Stage 1: Determine the extent of your pending leadership shortage. This evaluation starts by recognizing key positions and roles within your organization. Review job descriptions, gather any available HR statistics regarding scheduled and possible unscheduled attrition and look at your existing replacement strategies.

Stage 2: Build a competency model focusing on critical success factors and expected future challenges. This model, which defines your talent requirements for the next five years, should flow directly from your corporate strategic vision. This ensures the competencies you seek in future leaders stays aligned with organizational values.

Stage 3: Identify who your future leaders are and where the competency gaps may be. Along with conducting an external assessment of your talent resources, you can effectively appraise employees’ leadership potential through measurable performance reviews and feedback from managers, peers, subordinates and clients.

Stage 4: Establish an individual career development plan for high performers. Ask your people about their aspirations and compare their career streams to the needs of the company. This will aid in evaluating any skills, knowledge or ability deficits, which can be alleviated through additional training, job rotations, special assignments and opportunities to mentor alongside senior executives.

Stage 5: Select and place potential successors into transitional roles and support their efforts. Once you have identified and invested in your top people, you want to ensure you retain them. Do not overlook their valuable contributions. Compensate hard work and desirable behaviour through your rewards and recognition program as well as by positive reinforcement.

Stage 6: Continue monitoring the succession planning system and communicate, communicate, communicate. Along with keeping watch on any management gaps, your goal should be to integrate career management strategies into the corporate culture. Once employees realize they are part of a long-term plan, it helps them to see the opportunity within their reach if they are willing to nurture their careers within the organization.

In baseball, the best teams succeed because of their developed bench strength and the skilful movement of exceptional talent. The same applies to any business organization wanting to ensure leadership continuity and the successive ability to swing for the fences far into the future.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Preparing For the Future Through Succession Planning; presentation by Sue Kathler, People First HR Services Ltd.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 H2