Leadership Succession Planning – Best Practices

Majority of the organizations have a strategy and an accurate plan which highlights an organization’s vision and objectives for the future that is not only achievable but also sustainable in the long run. However, very few organizations have a strategy plan for succession – leadership transition when a key executive retires or exits.

A formal succession plan is critical to mitigate any form of risk and ensure future success. Yet, major chunk of organizations fail to develop a proper plan. Leadership transition is not adequately discussed, the process seems difficult and daunting.
There are many organizations that mistakenly believe that they have leadership transition all covered because of the fact that they have an “informal” list of replacement candidates squirreled away in a secret document that is stowed away for emergencies. However, a process such as this is often reactive, and often made in a hurry may not be useful in the long run. Unplanned transitions or changes can be confusing and can lead to needless mistrust and suspicion.

Many of the present day C-suite executives are approaching the age of retirement, but unfortunately, organizations do not have any formal plan for succession. According to the American Management Association, only about 8 percent of companies have a “comprehensive development program,” and about a quarter haven’t done succession planning at all.

Leadership Succession Planning

Organizational Challenges

Leaders need to proactively and effectively plan for a leadership transition with two to five years out, starting with identifying and prioritizing certain key challenges that are being faced by the organization. Post that, assess the characteristics and skill level of the potential leader that can help in addressing these challenges. Decide what’s important for you – a strategist, collaborator or an all-round expert?

Whatever it is that you’re looking for, you need to remember that the idea is not to seek a clone of the departing executive but an effective future leader who understands the organization’s strategic plans, challenges and aspirations. It is advisable that you gain a consensus and concur for a system that prioritizes the characteristics and creates a leadership success profile that can be used as a threshold to measure candidates against.

Overcoming Obstacles

There might be conflicting feelings around preparing successors. A current leader’s professional and personal identity are heavily invested and may carry a heavy shadow on the role. He/she may experience mixed feelings about the impending transition.

It is also a possibility that senior executives and board members have disagreements about the candidate for successor position. Key is to have an open dialogue around key leadership priorities and exploring alternating viewpoints. Failure in handling dissent and misalignment of viewpoints can create difficulty in finalizing a shared vision for a finalist candidate/s. It is advisable to develop a leadership success profile and assess the potential candidates against it which fairly decides the final choice.

Cultivating Talent

Leadership transition is a two-part process. One, select the right candidate and help him/her succeed i.e. the successor accepts the offer. Two, develop an efficient onboarding process which is inclusive of short- and long-term goals, time frames, and results.

Successful organizations rely on bench strength and succession planning helps in developing strong leaders who will be equipped to set up when the top executives move on.
Best organizations place their focus on developing a strong leadership process by creating bespoke professional plans for upcoming leaders. Cultivating multiple leaders for multiple roles can speed up the process of training and mentoring. Furthermore, providing stretch assignments to candidates for skill-building and acquiring experiences will help them prepare for bigger roles and additional responsibilities within the organization. Also, talent round tables can enable senior leadership to identify and develop the next generation of leaders.
A leader’s primary responsibility is to think strategically regarding the organization’s direction and deliberate on plans to positively identify who can be the right one to steer the way.


Succession planning can be strenuous and exhausting process for the top management. It is important that an integration plan is developed based on key transition issues to facilitate effective and smooth transition. Connecting with a professional service provider like Legacy Transitions can make succession planning easier so that the out-boarding process simple and hassle free.