Succession Planning Basics: the Template

I’ve written posts on how to do succession planning, why do succession planning, why not to do succession planning, how to achieve better gender balance through succession planning, and a boatload of other posts on the topic.

However, one thing I have not shared with readers of Great Leadership is what an actual succession plan looks like.

When someone refers to a “succession plan”, they are usually talking about one of three things:

1. A concept, idea, prediction, or hope, with nothing actually documented.

2. A comprehensive set of documents, often used in formal Board of Director or senior leadership meetings, that include replacement charts for key positions, position profiles, performance and potential grids, development plans, executive profiles, competency models, company and talent management strategy, and other various documents. While smart companies have done their best to streamline these documents down to the essential few, many companies still refer to this ten pound stack of documents as “the book”.

3. A replacement chart, or template.

I’ve written about and provided examples of most of the other pieces, but have never described the actual replacement chart. I guess that’s because it just seemed too obvious, but if you’ve never done it before, it helps to have a few examples. In fact, I’ve found that when it comes to explaining to executives how to complete a succession plan, they’ll ignore any detailed verbal or written instructions you give them and just intuitively fill out whatever form you provide them. 90% of the time they get it roughly right, the rest will call you with questions.

When I did a Google search for “succession plan templates”, most of what I found was, IMHO, not very useful. Granted, a good succession plan should be more than a few names scrawled on the back of a napkin, but in practical reality, that’s often all you need to make most decisions.

It doesn’t matter if you’re designing a software system or using forms, here are the “data elements” that should always be included, along with instructions. Use them to create your own unique form:

1. Position: this is the position you’re planning to replace some day – usually just a handful of mission-critical positions., often “C level”.

2. Incumbent: the person occupying the position today.

3. Candidates: names of individuals that have the potential to step into the position. There’s no magic number, but typically about 3. They are usually internal, but could be external as well.

4. Readiness rating for each candidate: some indicator of how ready the candidate is to step into the role, i.e., “immediately, within 1-2 years, within 2-5 years”, or a rating, like “high, medium, and low”, or “green, yellow, and red”, or “when #$%& freezes over”. (-:

That’s really about it. Organizations will sometimes include pictures of the incumbent and candidates and present them on an organization chart – a good HR software package will do this for you.

Sure, there are other fields you could include, but just make sure the information is absolutely essential. The details can be included in supporting documents. For example, additional information about the candidates can be included in position profiles and development plans.

Here are some other elements you might want to include:

1. Top 3 development needs for each candidates

2. Top 3 development actions for each candidate

3. Demographic information for each candidate, i.e., age, gender, EEO category, location, current position, wage grade, etc…

4. Performance and potential rating for each candidate, i.e., “3A, “1B”, etc…

5. Assessment information (performance ratings, potential assessments, behavioral assessments, etc…)

6. Retention risk (for incumbent and candidates)

7. Relocatability for candidates (willingness to move)

I’m sure there’s more, but again, more isn’t always better. I’m a big believer in the K.I.S.S. method of succession planning. As my friend Alex always used to tell me, “just because we can collect the information doesn’t mean we should“.

Can you think of anything else than an organization might want to include? Please leave a comment if you know of any.