Succession planning: How to do it right

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Employees leaving your business can have a significant impact, both in terms of cost to the business and the psychological impact on employees, the latter of which is likely to be negative but can be positive as well. Succession planning is not just reacting to a senior person leaving; it should be a continuous investment and process that reaps reward for your existing employees and prospects. That’s why organisations are seeing the value from embedding succession planning in an overall talent management process – instead looking for ‘talent’ that could take up one of many roles.

We answer some of your key questions around the practicalities of succession planning, from leaving and hiring to training and evaluating.

Let’s say you’re a senior manager in a business...

When an employee leaves the business, what is the biggest impact?

When someone goes, they take knowledge and expertise with them; in some ways, it’s a good sign that you’ve developed them in the right way. When this happens, though, they leave a gap, whether large or small, in the culture that takes time to repair. They are an individual in a very complicated ecosystem and only when they leave does it become apparent how significant their contributions were. The impact may be on a few or on many, depending on the sphere of influence they have in your company, but it certainly has an impact on the culture and morale of those around them.

The extent of the damage cannot be determined until the individual leaves and that is why there is a huge change in the approach to succession planning, so that rather than replacing key stakeholders it is becoming a more proactive approach – more recently being termed succession management which strongly aligns to talent management.

What are the advantages of hiring internally vs. externally?

Measuring and nurturing leadership potential internally is advantageous to organisations but external knowledge and skills can add value too. Organisations must ensure that external hires have the potential to succeed.

Hiring externally can:

  • Give you a larger candidate pool, more options to choose from
  • Help you expand into a new market or industry if you’re offering a new service where specific experience or expertise is needed
  • Give you a new perspective if your business unit is not performing and culture change is necessary (remember, as Dr Adrian Furnham said in his podcast with Thomas, it is harder to hard to change culture if it is normal to the person.)

What steps can you take to get those hiring decisions right?

Following on from our succession planning whitepaper looking at best practices, it is important to have a game plan when making your hiring decisions and getting them right for your business.

  • You must be specific about role requirements. For the role that someone has left, or that you’re trying to recruit for, has it changed? Will it change?
  • Beyond requirements, what are the characteristics that are needed from that person?

Psychological characteristics overlay work competencies and skill-sets.

  • Then, once the characteristics are decided, look for measures that will allow you to assess candidates for those characteristics.

Testing isn’t enough on its own, but you can’t make serious decisions without it. Quantitative measurement to have legally defensible decisions.

Do you have the tools in place to understand your people? Why not contact Thomas, the leading provider of people assessments, to see how we can help you. You might be surprised!

So, finally, let’s explore an ideal approach to succession management. Where do you start?

  1. Identify your future needs: get buy-in from key stakeholders and ensure there is a clear understanding of strategic plans.
  1. Identify your key positions, competencies and behaviours: make sure you look at the roles below these critical positions so that you are constantly feeding future talent through.
  1. Select and invite high potential candidates: There is a difference between inviting people and putting them forward – inviting is much more encouraging.
  1. Assess for high-potential and current performance: Consider assessment centres, psychometric assessments, performance measures and KPIs.
  1. Select training and development activities: This stage should be based on the outcomes of assessment phase; you can recommend personalised development outcomes and activities to support the individual in meeting the specific criteria. (This is a vital part of succession planning and it delivers your intention whilst investing in the talent of the future.)
  1. Implement personal development plan: Ensure you have commitment from all sides, personal development plan needs regular discussion and needs to remain current.
  1. Monitor and evaluate: You could conduct panel reviews and/or assessment centres, but the key is making sure this is flexible and appropriate at all times.


Looking for a quick and easy succession planning checklist? Well, you’re in luck. Download our ‘12 top tips for better succession planning’ checklist here.

Gabrielle Westhead

Gabrielle Westhead

Gabrielle, better known as Gabby, joined the Thomas family in April 2017 as the Content Executive. Outside of work, Gabby is involved in Buddhist and interfaith activities with the aim of helping make the world a more peaceful place.