Succession Planning: For Emergencies & the Long-Term

Updated March 18, 2021. First published July 27, 2021.

game pieces image - succession planning - Kiwi Partners

As we reflect on the last few years, one takeaway that comes to my mind is that fortune will favor those who are prepared. The pandemic revealed how delicate an organization’s infrastructure is without proper resources, talent, and preparation.

As a leader, I want to provide my team, peers, and clients with the capabilities and education to continue with the least disruption if I suddenly cannot support the team. The unplanned departure of a leader, whatever the cause, leaves an organization open for setbacks. Here are some steps your organization can take to prepare for change.

How do we start?

Assess your organization’s willingness or position:

1. Board Involvement: If the board requests a succession plan, it may be a lot easier to obtain buy-in from other leaders. A board has the responsibility to oversee an organization.

2. Leadership Commitment: Irrespective of the board, leaders have a role in paving the way for smooth and thoughtful transitions to future leaders. If the leaders aren’t ready, I recommend thinking about this from a change management perspective.

After assessing the organization’s willingness and readiness, you can take two approaches: emergency preparedness or future capacity building.

Emergency Planning:

Start by deciding who are the key employees. Typically, this would involve the CFO, Executive Director, or anyone with decision-making authority (especially someone who works in a silo). Once a determination is made of which roles would be necessary to keep the organization moving forward, ask the following question:

Can we identify someone on the team who will feel comfortable handling this pivotal role if the key employee suddenly leaves due to illness or other reasons?

If the answer is yes, keep asking questions such as:

  • What will the team member need to know to keep the daily responsibilities?

  • Who should be introduced to the team member?

  • How should the team member be introduced?

  • Is the leadership team in alignment?

If the answer is no, ask the following questions:

  • Is there someone on another team or within the department, who can manage the urgent interim responsibilities with help, support, and short-term development? (If so, determine the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps necessary to start preparing them immediately.)

  • Is there someone from outside of the organization? If this is the course you take, make sure to have information readily available for the outside consultant. What would they need to know on day one?

Future Capacity Building

Succession planning consultants can help facilitate and implement a succession plan, but the organization needs to be ready and willing to see the plan through.

Asking some of the questions listed below will provide insight into where the organization stands.

  • Has the organization identified and determined the organization’s future needs?

  • Does the organization know what skills tomorrow’s leaders will need to meet organizational goals?

  • Can the organization identify the gaps between the skills represented in the current talent pool and the skills required in the future?

After answering the questions listed above, the organization will be better poised to start succession planning. Begin by identifying future leaders and work with them to develop and find opportunities for their specific growth. In addition, organizations can look into ways to further define what it means to be a successful leader in the organization’s future state.

Examples include:

  • Workshops around building a profile with competencies and skillsets needed by future leaders.

  • Training programs to bridge the gap between what skill is possessed and what is required.

There is something special about planning for a future without you; it is hard work and can be challenging to the ego. However, succession planning allows you to think about how and who can take what you built to the next level.

Please contact Kiwi Partners’ HR Services if you would like assistance developing your organization's succession planning.