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Welcome to the September 2010 issue of Alignment Solutions! Here’s what’s going on:

  • We have a new free tool for those who can use some help in setting priorities and allocating scarce resources. Pat Lynch’s Process for Prioritizing Organizational Services and Programs is a two-page document that walks you through the steps that allow you to identify priorities in a systematic, defensible, and objective way. Check it out and let us know what you think!

  • Part 4 of our 2010 teleseminar series, The Employee-centered Workplace™: The Key to Optimizing Business Results continues on October 21st. Click here for more details or to register.

This month’s theme is succession planning. After firing so many workers, organizations are learning that it is more important than ever to be sure they have the right people in critical and leadership positions. In addition, they face the possibility that their remaining employees will leave as the economy recovers and they have choices about where they work. How do you plan to staff your organization’s critical and leadership positions? This month we go over some of the basics of succession planning, including how its elements can ease personal as well as workplace transitions.

The Feature Article, “Succession Planning Myths and Realities,” distinguishes between succession planning and replacement planning, and dispels five common myths.

In “Succession Planning: Benefits and Critical Success Factors,” the Business Solutions section lists compelling ways that succession planning can optimize business results, and identifies some key factors that can make or break the success of your process.

In the Personal Solutions section, “What’s Your Personal Succession Planning Process?” suggests how to adapt the succession planning process to our personal lives in ways that help ease the transitions we face – e.g., to a new job, to a new career, or to retirement.

I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

Do you know someone who could benefit from the value we provide? If so, let’s create a win-win-win situation! Contact us about how we can make this happen.

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Succession Planning Myths and Realities

Succession planning is a concept that often is misunderstood, to the detriment of all concerned. People tend to use the term incorrectly, thinking it means one thing when actually it means something quite different. For example, people often confuse the succession planning process, which focuses on future needs of the organization, with replacement planning, which is directed at filling immediate vacancies. So before we get to the myths and realities of succession planning, let’s define this concept to make sure we’re on the same page.

Succession planning is an on-going, long-term process to systematically develop talent throughout the organization so that there is a readily available, qualified pool of candidates to fill critical positions as they become vacant. The key is to develop the talent before individuals are promoted so they can be productive immediately. The ability to hit the ground running is particularly important for those who fill critical positions.

Here are five of the most common myths about effective succession planning and the realities behind each one:

MYTH #1: Succession planning is an event performed as needed.

REALITY: Effective succession planning requires an on-going, systematic process that is tied to the organization’s strategy.

MYTH #2: Succession planning and replacement planning are the same thing.

REALITY: While people often confuse succession planning with replacement planning, the two are very different processes. Replacement planning is used to fill vacancies as they occur without questioning the need to do so. In contrast, succession planning is forward-looking, considering not just the organization’s present needs, but its future direction and related needs as well. For example, it’s possible that positions that exist today will not be necessary in a few years, or that there will be more effective alternatives to staffing them, or that new positions will arise. Effective succession planning processes consider all of these possibilities.

MYTH #3: Succession planning focuses only on senior level positions.

REALITY: To be most effective, the succession planning process must extend to all critical positions throughout the organization. A position is critical if the failure to staff it results in the organization’s inability to achieve its mission.

MYTH #4: During the succession planning process, a few candidates are identified in each area and “groomed” for higher level positions.

REALITY: Potential replacements can come from anywhere within the organization, and employees self-select into desired career paths. Professional development is available to those who choose to take advantage of it, not just to a select few.

MYTH #5: Once organizational leaders recognize the importance of succession planning, implementation is fairly straightforward.

REALITY: Implementing an effective succession planning process is not an easy undertaking. Essentially it is a form of organizational change, and like any change, it must be well planned, have sufficient support, and be treated as a long-term commitment. There are critical success factors that, if not present, will cause the effort to fail.

How important should having an effective succession planning process be in your organization? Before you answer, try this quick exercise: Pick a specific critical job in your organization – i.e., one that, if not staffed, would prevent the organization from achieving its mission. Imagine that the person doing that job leaves abruptly, and there is no one qualified to replace him/her. What would happen? After contemplating the answer to that question, you are ready to determine how high a priority succession planning should be in your organization.

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Succession Planning: Benefits and Critical Success Factors

Succession planning is an on-going, long-term process to systematically develop talent throughout the organization so that there is a readily available, qualified pool of candidates to fill critical positions as they become vacant. While this capability ensures the on-going viability of the organization, it engenders a myriad of other key benefits as well. For example, an effective succession planning process:

  • Optimizes scarce resources because it allows for the coordinated development of employees.
  • Reinforces the organization’s goals and mission by demonstrating a clear connection with each job level.
  • Provides a motivating environment for employees who want to advance by providing them with clear paths for doing so.
  • Increases morale, as employees are assured that leaders and those in critical positions are well prepared for their duties.
  • Increases productivity, as advancement opportunities are tied to performance.
  • Inspires trust because the process is transparent.
  • Acts as a risk management tool because it prevents premature or ill-advised promotions.
  • Provides for leadership continuity and excellence.

In order to realize the above benefits, however, certain critical success factors must be in place during the development and implementation phases of a succession planning process. Many of them are the same as those required for a major change initiative. Here are a few examples of those factors:

  • The components of the process are aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
  • There is a willingness to accept the risks and setbacks that accompany a major change effort.
  • Senior management actively supports the succession planning process.
  • There is an executive-level “champion” who has responsibility for guiding the planning and implementation processes.
  • The existing infrastructure is capable of supporting the process (e.g., technology, communication systems, effective performance measurement process).
  • Leaders at all levels of the organization take responsibility for implementing the the process.
  • Leaders at all levels provide employees with opportunities for growth.
  • Professional development is treated as a career-long endeavor.
  • There are clearly defined expectations and standards.
  • Responsibilities and accountabilities are clear.
  • The process is transparent.
  • There are effective measures of the progress and impact of the process.

An effective succession planning process not only ensures leadership continuity and excellence in critical jobs, but it enables the organization to optimize its business results in other tangible ways. To achieve these outcomes, however, requires a realistic examination of the organization’s readiness to embrace the necessary changes. The succession planning process should not be entered into lightly. Yet leaders who commit to fully embracing it find that the outcomes can be transformational.

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What’s Your Personal Succession Planning Process?

What comes to mind when you hear the term succession planning? If you’re like most people, you immediately think of its most common workplace application, namely replacing top leaders. Yet an effective succession planning process can be adapted for personal use as well. For example, it can be used to facilitate transitions to new jobs, to new careers, to self-employment, or to retirement. Just as having a viable succession planning process ensures the continuity of the organization, so too its elements can smooth the way during personal life transitions as well.

There is no doubt that organizations benefit from having a systematic process for ensuring continuity by having a ready supply of competent individuals standing by when needed. If you think about it, individuals can benefit tremendously from similar planning as well. An integrated succession planning process contains a number of components that have applications for those who are going through, or expect at some point in their lives to undergo, changes in their jobs, their careers, or employment status. Whereas workers once commonly had a single career, and even a single job, today experts estimate that people will have anywhere from three to seven different careers during their work years. And then there is retirement, a concept whose meaning continues to evolve. In other words, everyone will go through these transitions during their lifetimes. Why not make the change process as easy and productive as possible?

Here are some of the elements of a succession planning process that, if done on a regular basis, will facilitate these transitions in life:

  • A clearly articulated “big picture” that guides your career goals.
  • Strong commitment to the course of action you have selected.
  • Support of your goals by significant people in your life.
  • Identification of the specific competencies required for successful transition to your next position or career, or to retirement.
  • Periodic assessment of your existing knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies.
  • Effective measures of progress and achievement of your goals.
  • Realistic assessment of your current performance.
  • Implementation of your on-going professional development plan.
  • Periodic re-assessment of your personal goals.
  • Mindset that is ready for change and the opportunities it presents.

Whether your career goals include moving up in your current organization, or changing careers, or doing the best you can in your present position, or moving out of the workforce to retirement, the transitions will be much smoother if you have had an on-going, systematic process to help you prepare for the changes. Succession planning’s emphasis on development and accountability provides a wonderful blueprint for ensuring personal as well as professional success.

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Date of Publication: September 2010 | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch