Succession planning

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A methodology for identifying and developing employees to ensure that key organizational positions can be filled with qualified internal candidates, in advance of actual need, and to assist in managing diversity and workforce planning. It is also defined as a systematic approach by an organization to safeguard leadership permanence in crucial positions, intellect retention and development, knowledge capital for the future and to encourage individual progression.

Purpose and Benefit

Succession Planning should be part of a Succession Management program which focuses on ongoing, regular efforts to build talent, as well as helps individuals recognize their potential through coaching and feedback. It refers to efforts intended to ensure the sustained effective performance of an organization, division, department or work group by identifying and providing for the development, replacement and strategic application of key people over time. Both succession planning and management highlight the importance of developing in-house talent to meet present and future talent needs of the organization.

Succession Planning and Management are beneficial, as they:

-Increase opportunities for high potential workers;

-Contribute to identification of group of employees with potential for advancement;

-Contribute to implementation of organization’s strategic business plans;

-Support employees in recognizing their career plans;

-Understand prospective intellectual capital;

-Inspire the development of diverse groups;

-Better prepare employee’s to react to changing demands;

-Improve the morale of employees;

-Better manage the consequences and effects of voluntary departures;

-Identify which employees can be laid off without loss and damage to the organization;

-Manage more effectively the consequences of downsizing;

-Decrease headcount to workers that are deemed essential.


Succession Planning and Management aim to match organization’s present talent to its future talent needs; ensure that organization has the right people at the right time and place to achieve the desired results; meet strategic and operational challenges; ensure the continued development of leadership and talent and manage critically important knowledge assets of organizations.

Implementation guide

Succession Management may include generation of succession plans to cover identified posts in short (1 year) to medium (2-5) term of years, identification of those individuals with potential who’s development needs to be managed and identification of skill area/vulnerabilities that includes managerial and technical competencies that the company needs to address. The important element of this process is to gather data on potential development opportunities which exist or are likely to arise in the various parts of the organization. Succession Planning and Management should be linked to both organizational and human resources strategy. Succession Management process is difficult to implement.

The following steps are essential:

-Integrating Succession Management plans with the strategy;

-Identifying skills and competencies needed to meet strategic objectives; the identification and characteristics of key successors can be identified through job and competency based approach;

-Identifying high potential employees;

-Making development opportunities and experiences available;

-Monitoring Succession management.

Success factors

-Succession Planning and Management should be an ongoing process that should not exist in isolation;

-It must be integrated with organization's strategy and adapted to changes as organizations strategic objectives change; organizations must start with the business plan;

-Assessing employees must be done both fairly and accurately as this is necessary for employees to buy into the process and feel that the selection process is valid and reliable;

-In Succession Management process, the focus of management is on the development of competencies not just on job preparation;

-Executive team should hold the managers accountable for developing employees and organizations should allocate some executives' incentives to leadership development and assess them on their ability to retain talent;

-Organizations should take into consideration employees’ aspirations and goals when they develop them. Managerial preferences cannot be the only basis in the employee development;

-Succession Management process should encourage employees' participation to gain their commitment and ownership to the plans;

-Managers should be forced to identify backfill candidates.

Common pitfalls

Numerous challenges exist with implementation of a Succession Management program, some of which include:

-Identifying a group of top candidates may result in those individuals drifting their careers due to their contributions being already recognized, organizations also might not invest sufficiently in the further development of these promotable employees which may result in decline of their motivation and competencies;

-Selection bias might result if the selection criteria are not clear, evaluation strategies may vary by department and rating errors might occur, such as recency, contrast, and leniency and strictness; this might result in lower morale and lack of ‘buy in’ into the process from the employees;

-Managers at times may fear that by developing their own replacements they themselves may get replaced;

-Difficulties in predicting accurately the future performance of the high potential employees under changing conditions.


INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, The Nuclear Power Industry’s Aging Workforce: Transfer of Knowledge to the Next Generation, IAEA-TECDOC-1399, IAEA, Vienna (2004).

Rothwell, J., 2010. Effective succession planning: ensuring leadership continuity and building talent from within. 4th ed. New York: AMACOM

Belcourt, M and McBey, K., 2007.Strategic human resources planning.3rd ed.Toronto: Nelson.

IAEA, "Planning and Execution of Knowledge Management Assist Missions for Nuclear Organizations", IAEA-TECDOC-1586, Vienna 2008

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