Succession planning is not about replacing an existing employee. The purpose is to prepare the organization and develop its “bench strength” for future organizational requirements. There are five elements to managing a succession process.

1. Identifying key positions for which a succession plan is necessary

The organization may have a couple of key positions or it may have many. The chief staff officer role is definitely one to be included in the succession plan. When deciding which others to include, consider:

  • Is this a key role critical to the success of the organization, and if the person in this role suddenly leaves or is unavailable and the position becomes vacant is the organization at risk?
  • Is this move a logical next step? Most organizations will focus on senior managers or supervisors as the second level for succession management (after the CEO, which is the first level).
  • Does the person currently occupying this position hold a good deal of knowledge about processes or other institutional memory that will effectively leave when the incumbent departs the job? For example, the job procedures and outcomes are not fully documented.


2. Identifying the successor or successors

The organization may have more than one employee who has demonstrated the knowledge, skills, potential, and the interest to develop to a level of additional responsibility. The commitment to the process, and abilities, of the succession candidate are integral to identifying who to develop.

3. Identifying job requirements

The task is to understand what requirements will exist within one or more key positions in the future. This creates an inventory of skills and attributes that will serve as a checklist to audit what a succession candidate presently offers and needs to develop.

4. Building competencies

The succession planning process must look at building the competencies and skills for current and future organizational needs. It has been correctly observed that succession planning is about “what is next?” not just “who is next?” There will be one set of competencies (i.e., knowledge, skills, and abilities) for each position. However, in creating a development plan to build the competencies of succession candidates to be ready for the intended future role, there will be different development plans for each succession candidate.

5. Assessing progress

As the father of modern management, Peter F. Drucker, correctly observed “what gets measured gets done.” It is essential that the organization that creates a succession plan, and invests in the development of employees, assesses its progress toward the intended outcome.

Who is responsible for planning?

Organizational leaders who are involved in succession planning are the board of directors, the chief staff officer and, through delegation, all other employees who manage staff.

The board is involved in that it must define the corporate values and maintain a culture that ensures succession planning takes place. The board must hold the chief staff officer accountable for succession planning. The board must also commit the necessary resources.

The chief staff officer must be the leader who provides the information for staff to develop employees, and ensures succession plans are created, monitored, evaluated, and adapted so that the organization is able to track that its succession planning investment is paying dividends.

Other supervisors are involved as they manage their best people and embrace a disciplined, purposeful approach of coaching, mentoring, guiding and developing their staff to broaden their skills through various means, one of which will be training.

For a comprehensive resource publication on Succession Planning, contact the Canadian Society of Association Executives to order Succession Planning – Succeeding At Succession by Jack Shand, CMC, CAE.

Content is © Jack Shand and the Canadian Society of Association Executives, 2009, and is reprinted with permission.

Jack Shand, CMC, CAE, is president of Leader Quest, a management consulting firm providing expert advice to not-for-profit organizations since 1997. Leader Quest specializes in executive search/staff recruitment, strategic planning, governance, and organizational reviews. Jack can be reached at 905-842-3845 and 1-877-929-4473, or jack-at-leaderquest-dot-com.