Succession Planning Template

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Succession planning is critical in order to ensure the long-term success of any organization. A “succession plan” usually means one of three things:

  • A concept, idea, prediction, or hope with nothing actually documented. ​“Our CEO, who is 63, said he’s going to retire in two years. One of these days we need to do a succession plan.”
  • 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.” “We need to prepare our annual succession plan for the upcoming board meeting. Better order a new ream of paper.”
  • A list of names that could replace a key position in an organization. They are often called “replacement charts.” “Key positions” are usually “C” level positions, i.e., CEO, CFO, COO; kinds of positions where a company could be vulnerable if the incumbent were to win the lottery or be hit by a bus.

Succession Plan

Succession plans are confidential documents usually only seen by HR, the Board, or high-level executives with a need to know. They can be input and organized with sophisticated software systems, or as simple as a Word document.

When implementing a succession planning process, I’ve found that it’s helpful to start with an example, or template, and then customize it to the needs of the position or organization. In fact, 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. Ninety percent of the time, they get it roughly right, and the rest will call you with questions. 

When I did a Google search for “succession plan templates,” most of what I found was 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.

Proper "Data Elements"

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:

  • Position: This is the position you’re planning to replace someday – usually just a handful of mission-critical positions, often "C-level."
  • Incumbent: The person occupying the position today.
  • Candidates: Names of individuals that have the potential to step into the position. There’s no magic number, but typically about three. They are usually internal but could be external as well.
  • Readiness rating for each candidate: Some indicator of how ready the candidate is to step into the role, i.e., “immediately, within one to two years, within two to five years”, or a rating, like “high, medium, and low,” or “green, yellow, and red.”

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.

Other Considerations

  • Top three development needs for each candidate
  • Top three development actions for each candidate
  • Demographic information for each candidate, i.e., age, gender, EEO category, location, current position, wage grade, etcetera.
  • Performance and potential rating for each candidate, i.e., “3A, “1B”, etc.
  • Assessment information: performance ratings, potential assessments, behavioral assessments, etc.
  • Retention risk for incumbent and candidates
  • Relocation ability for candidates or 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."