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While succession planning sounds like an overwhelming task, it’s simply a method of considering who your organization’s potential leaders may be in the years to come and placing them on a path to be successful in those roles. Future leaders will most likely come through a combination of promotion from within and recruiting sources from outside the organization—succession planning focuses on that first source of talent, your current employee base.

This article is intended to break down succession planning into simple steps to help you formalize a program within your organization.

Succession Planning Steps

Step 1: Consider the organization’s future need for leaders.

Here are some valuable questions to ask:

  • Is the organization expected to add more employees?
  • Where are the organization’s current and anticipated gaps in leadership and expertise?
  • What type of leaders are needed to support the organization’s culture?
  • What type of leaders are needed to support the organization’s strategic plan?
  • Will the organization be moving into areas where different expertise is needed?
  • Is the need for these future leaders anticipated in the long-term or short-term?
  • Which individuals are expected to leave soon through retirement, resignation, project completion, etc.?

Step 2: Identify the competencies and experience necessary for success in future leadership roles. 

To identify who your potential future leaders may be, it’s important to first identify the knowledge base, educational background, experience level, professional traits, specific skill sets, and natural abilities that are required to succeed in those leadership roles.  Many organizations skip this step, but this is perhaps the most important in order to avoid promoting people into roles where they are unlikely to succeed.

Step 3: Evaluate your current talent pool. 

This exercise is intended to identify those employees who may have a high potential for leadership.  Some employees are well-suited for management positions.  Others are well-suited for expertise leadership positions that do not involve managing others.

When assessing your employees, consider both their performance and their potential.  Performance should be evaluated based on the employee’s most recent performance review.  Potential is based on management’s assessment of the employee’s ability to assume a leadership position in the short or mid-term, generally within the next two years.  With these criteria in mind, identify the employees who have mastered their current role and have the qualifications to assume leadership positions or could develop those qualifications with training.  You might also take note of employees who aren’t performing well, but who seem to have a high potential for leadership.  It’s possible they’re in roles that do not leverage their skills and strengths and they may do better in a more challenging position.

Step 4: Develop pathways for the employees you’ve identified to move into those leadership roles. 

Begin by asking the employee about their professional goals and making sure they are interested in moving into a different, more challenging role.

Once you know they are interested, this step involves laying out plans for how that individual employee can move into a higher-level position.  Pathways may include many elements, including:

  • Additional Education
  • Internal and External Training
  • Achievement of Certifications
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching Sessions
  • Leadership Simulation Experiences
  • Smaller-scale Leadership Roles or Projects

Step 5: Design a plan to evaluate the employee’s progress along the pathway. 

Periodic review of where the employee currently stands, remaining skill gaps, and the organization’s evolving leadership and expertise needs should be taken into account in these periodic reviews.


Succession planning only works if you retain employees with potential for future leadership, so your succession planning should be paired with a sound retention strategy.  Take proactive steps to create a workplace where people enjoy their jobs, and if turnover is higher than you’d like, find out why employees leave and why they stay.  Exit interviews are helpful when employees depart, and “stay interviews” can help you gauge the morale, engagement, and satisfaction of your current workforce.

Although succession planning does require time and energy, identifying and developing internal employees to assume future leadership positions will ultimately save you money.  Replacing higher level employees with outsiders is significantly more expensive than replacing lower paid or entry-level workers—it takes more time to bring outsiders up to speed and impart the organizational knowledge necessary to be a successful leader.  Cultivating the employees you already have will not only save you money, it will improve morale and create loyalty.  If employees know you’re willing to invest in them and their career path, they’re much more likely to give your organization their best.

For more tools to attract and retain excellent employees check out HR Support Center.

HR Support Center