Succession Planning


Succession planning and management and leadership development features noticeably on the agenda of most if not all top managers. Succession planning was a term reserved for the last wills and testaments of family owned companies, however, the application of this term has evolved to include companies whose purpose is to plan to replace CEOs. Presently, succession planning is accepted as a best practice to replace leaders and critical employees at various levels of all types of organizations. In its simplest form, succession planning is defined as having the right people in the right place at the right time. Moreexplicitly, it is the constant and continuous process that involves the identification of future leaders and developing them in an organization so that they are ready to move into leadership goals. However, it is worth noting that it should not be mistaken for replacement hiring. Replacement is a reactive and responsive process to meet an abrupt need, while succession planning is proactive and aims at dealing with a need before it exists (Atwood, 2007, p. 2).

The process involves reviewing an organization’s strategic plan, studying the current work force, forecasting future trends, and developing employees in a structured scheme to replace an organization’s top leaders as they retire or depart from the organization. According to Atwood(2007, p. 4), the steps of the succession planning process are: assessing the organization; determination of key positions; identification of competencies for key positions; identification and assessment of candidates; creation of development plans; and measurement, monitoring, reporting and revision.

Challenges in Determining Who should be promoted within an Organization

Vertical career movement within an organization usually takes the form of demotion or promotion. Moving into a job of a higher level is known as promotion. Promotions typically entail such aspects as higher level responsibilities, more complex work, greater competency demands and better remuneration(Swanepoel, 2008, p. 413). In most organizations, promotion has been and is still a contentious issue, due to such factors as employment equity, affirmative action, and the concept of merit.Because promotion decisions are traditionally based on such factors as work performance history and “meritorious work-related grounds”, and because the flatter organizational structure limits promotion opportunities, it is to be expected that promotion decisions lead to a good deal of debate and even discontent.

In determining which employee is to be promoted within an organizational setting, the human resource unit faces some challenges. These challenges crop from discontentment by other employees who might view that the promotion decision was not fairly arrived at, and the basis for promotion is unfairly tilted towards particular segments of employees. Other challenges crop from the choice of individual factors upon which a promotion decision is based. Organizations are tornbetween which aspects should be used as a basis for promotion.Attributes such as competencies, paper qualifications, prior learning and relevant experience all carry different weights relative to the others and it becomes a challenge for an organization to decide on which attribute, or a combination of which attributes should carry more weight in the course of assessing different employees for promotion.

Another key challenge that crops up in the process of deciding on whom to promote is the concern on finances (Katcher, 2007, p. 160). Promoting employees requires paying them more. This puts a strain on the budget of many organizations. Thus, it forces organizations to offer promotions to employees in the lower levels of the organizational structure as the increased in salary costs will be small relative to promotions of employees in the upper levels of the organizational structure. This may result to a demotivated high level employee.

Factors to be considered in Identifying Potential Candidates for Leadership Positions

After key positions within an organization have been defined and potential candidates have been identified to fill these positions, an organization must assess each candidate and diagnose their strengths and development needs.Romejko(2008, p. 48) states that to get the most from workers, a company must nurture the relationship between employer and leader that motivates, allows for growth, encourages and develops an exceptional talent into an exceptional leader. The author further adds that organizations ought to follow the CARE concept as a tool to develop employees.

Many cognitive, social andemotional traits differentiate leaders from followers, successful from unsuccessful leaders, and high level from low level leaders. Therefore it is upon the human resource unit of any organization to put in place mechanisms that allow for the identification of the best potential candidate for a future leadership position.According to Bass and Bass(2009, p. 101)“a potential leader is characterized by a strong drive for responsibility and completion of tasks, vigor and persistence in the pursuit of goals, venturesomeness and originality in problem solving, a drive to exercise initiative in social situations, self-confidence and a sense of personal identity, willingness to accept the consequences of his or her decisions and actions, readiness to absorb interpersonal stress, willingness to tolerate frustration and delay, ability to influence other people’s behavior, and the capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand”.

Klenke(2004, p. 59), identified three broad categories of traitsa human resource department should look for ina potential candidate for future leadership positions. These traits the author outlined as: physical traits such as height, weight, energy and appearance; mental abilities such as intelligence; and personality traits, including aggressiveness, extroversion, self-confidence, emotional control and adaptability. Therefore, personality is a factor in leadership differentiation. These traits Klenke(2004, p. 59), emphasizes will assist an organization in choosing the correct candidates for future leadership positions.

The Six Fundamentals of Using Assessment for Growth-Focused Succession Planning as Outlined By Paese (2010)

Paese(2010, p. 468), identified six fundamental actions that are required by organizations during succession planning to shift their system from a traditional replacement-focused system to a more contemporary growth-focused system. These fundamental were outlined as: Aligning succession management with business strategy; definition of success holistically for all levels of leadership; identification of leadership potential with a focus on the ability to grow; accurate assessment of readiness for leadership at higher levels; adoption of a creative, risk-oriented approach to development; and establishment of management accountabilities with teeth.

Aligning succession management with business strategy involves anticipating movement and change in an organization. This involves having more leaders ready to step up to the most pressing leadership demands, and this is only achievable when there is direct involvement and energy of line leaders and not only HR. that is, aligning the accountabilities of senior leaders to the metrics of system success. This fundamental requires the active participation of senior executives, who are required to own talent growth. This fundamental will ensure that there is a constant and stable supply of leaders ready to fulfill critical business challenges when they arise, and the primary measure of the success of such a strategy is the availability of ready leaders at a time when the need arises.

Defining of success holistically for all level of leadership is the second fundamental. This involves defining leadership holistically. That is, leadership decisions should not be limited to competencies alone, but also on otherattributes such as organizational knowledge, experience as well as personal attributes. This will ensure that development and promotion decisions are made with the most accurate and comprehensive information.

The third fundamental according to Paese(2010, p. 475) is the identification of leadership potential with a focus on the ability to grow. This fundamental involves reaching inwards towards the organization and identifying leaders who seem to possess the greatest potential for growth towards the leadership roles of the organization and accelerating their development in the hope that they could fill the future leadership roles of the company. The author suggests that to achieve this, an organization needs to first identify employees with leadership potential, secondly, evaluate their strengths and development needs, and lastly, develop these employees toward future leadership roles.

Fundamental number four is the accurate assessment of a person’s readiness for leadership at higher levels. According to Paese(2010, p. 482), this involves subjecting a prospective leader to a different form of assessment different from the normal assessment that is based on past and present performance. Paese suggests the use of a more comprehensive assessment that uses professionally validated tools and methods. These he adds, yield far greater perceived validity, acceptance of feedback, and developmental insight more than assessments conducted in more cursory fashion. These high-quality assessments serve the function of confirming potential, targets developmental actions and guides promotion decisions.

Adoption of a creative, risk-oriented approach to development is fundamental number five. According to Paese(2010, p. 489), this involves taking advantage of a moment when a developmental path forward is unclear to create unique opportunities to leverage uncertainty and work to generate a new opportunity to apply new skills or untested capabilities.

The sixth Fundamental is establishing management accountabilities with teeth(Paese, 2010, p. 490). This involves aligning management accountabilities to ensure follow-through on plans and learning objectives. This fundamental involves bringing emerging leaders closer to the organizations leading edge by senior leaders who are on that edge. This requires not only the creative, risk-oriented developmental planning, but also a shared ownership of growth.Paese(2010, p. 491) adds that senior leadership in an organization must work together with emerging leaders to acquaint them with the immediate and potential future leadership dilemmas being faced.

These six fundamentals Paese(2010, p. 475) states will result to a succession management  approach that facilitates ideal leadership growthwhere senior leadership directly engages with emerging leaders to create experiences that prepare identified leadership candidates for future leadership challenges.

The Different Types of Assessments that may be Appropriate for use in Succession Planning

According to Psychtests(2014), there are not many human resource efforts that have more impact on staff productivity, turnover and motivation than the nurturing of management skill and leadership dexterities of those in charge. The author adds that spotting budding leaders among the internal staff and fostering their skills is a great way to execute an effective and efficient succession plan. The author suggests a number of tests to evaluate whether an employee possesses the traits and skills required to lead others. These are outlined as: Leadership Potential Tests, Multi-dimensional Intelligence Quotient, Management Skills and Styles Assessment, Career advancement Profiles, Communication Skills Assessment, Negotiation Aptitude Profile, and Multi-Dimensional Emotional Intelligence Test.

Leadership Potential Tests measure an employee’s leadership qualities based on three leadership traits. These are transactional leadership, transformational leadership and leadership potential. Multi-dimensional Intelligence Quotient is an assessment that can be used as a predictor of achievement in various areas. It would measure the mental abilities that are positively correlated with various skills as well as academic performance. This test will be a measure of the employees’ true potential in terms of their underlying abilities such as logical reasoning, mathematical skills, language abilities, spatial relation skills, knowledge retained and the ability to solve problems.

Management Skills and Styles Assessment is another test which can be employed in succession planning. This assessment tests the congruence of an employee of an employee to a particular leadership position. That is, employees who are well matched to the job description

Career advancement Profiles: this test assesses whether an employee is prepared to accept and take on more responsibilities and challenges.

Creativity and Problem-Solving Aptitude Tests: this encompasses assessing an employee’s creative problem solving skills that involve the use of imagination and cognitive skills as opposed to the conventional logical thinking, so as to provide a more insightful view into the nature of a problem.Communication Skills Assessment, this test measures the communication skills of an individual. Leadership potions require an individual who possesses good communication skills as communication forms a key foundation in professional relationships.

Negotiation Aptitude Profile, this assessment measures the ability of an individual to conduct negotiations, resolving disagreements and coming up with mutually beneficial solutions. Finally, theMulti-Dimensional Emotional Intelligence Tests: this test assesses the ability of an individual to separate his professional decisions from being influenced by emotions. It also assesses an individuals’ capacity to recognize his own emotions and those of others, and understanding how best to motivate oneself, become closer to others and manage ones own feelings.

ASet of “Best Practices” for using Assessment for Succession Planning

Numerous research studies have been undertaken on succession planning and management in recent years. Equally numerous best practices have been identified by various researchers.

According to Fulmer & Bleak(2007),  the best practices in succession planning involve: deploying a succession management process that encompasses transforming succession planning into anfundamental corporate process by displaying a linkage between succession planning and overall business strategy;  identifying a talent pool, whereby the organization employs a continuous identification process to focus on future leaders; engaging future leaders and emphasizing on the importance of specific, individualized development plans for each employee.

Key best practices according to Rothwell(2010, p. 33) encompass: using a “big picture roadmap or model” to guide the effort; ensuring a hands-on and pro-active participation by the organization’s top leadership; use of competency models to clarify what proficiencies will be desirable for the future, if an organization is to realize its strategic goals and objectives; use of individual development plans to narrow developmental gaps; development of descriptions of the values and ethical standards required and assessment of people relative to those as well as competencies; building a perspective that high-potential talent is not owned by any particular manager, but rather its is a shared resource; and finally use of leadership nurturing endeavors to develop common proficiencies needed for the future.

Goldsmith and Carter(2010, p. 249) identified three best practices in succession planning. The first was identification of potential successors and high-potential individuals; this involves management identifying candidates who are ready to fill a critical leadership position should it become vacant and candidates who, with additional development can fill the position. The second best practices is assessment of the talent, this involves successors and high-potential individuals being assessed by an external industrial psychology firm over time. Finally, review of the individual’s forms the third best practice; this involves successors and high-potential candidates being reviewed by executive management for the purpose of getting to know them and targeting developmental actions.

Common salient features of these bests practices show that the best approach ought to integrate top-down and bottom-up approaches, the active participation of top managers and management in establishing SP&M procedures, active involvement of employees and their immediate supervisors and finally effort to integrate SP&M and individual career planning.


In conclusion, it is apparent that succession planning is an important program for any organization. It is beneficial in addressing long-term HR initiatives and coordination of an organizations work force vision for the future. Succession planning programs also provide a focal point for efforts to integrate the organizations capacities to perform, change and transform, and encouraging employees to continually grow and expand creating an organizational-wide mind-set for change and performance. It also builds a corporate culture in which development is expected and is established as accountability for individuals and for their immediate supervisor alike, thereby facilitating the achievement of an organization’s strategic objectives. Indeed, Succession planning is forms an important part of any organizations and it should be made part and parcel of any organizations business growth strategy.



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