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Succession Planning Versus Replacement Planning

POSTED 10/12/2015
By Karla Lant

Even the head of a major company may not understand the difference between succession planning and replacement planning, but they are distinct. Knowing the differences is essential to proper talent management.

Basics Of Replacement Planning And Succession Planning

Replacement planning is a sort of contingency plan. The idea is a company will name a next-in-line or “backup” for major positions with the idea that these people will not be needed unless something goes wrong. The thought that goes into naming such replacement is comparatively minimal; the focus is on meeting basic needs and ensuring that “must have” qualifications will be met.

In contrast, succession planning is part of the long-term plan of a healthy company. The focus here is on planning for change as part of healthy growth, and acknowledging even top-level people leave. Succession planning means that replacements are mentored and developed, not just placed on a list outlining “Plan B.”

The overall goal of succession planning is to foster deep-rooted strengths throughout the company; this in turn ensures there will be many top-level candidates when someone in a high-level position does eventually move on — and at some point this is going to happen. Therefore, placing the focus on creating many highly qualified internal candidates is tantamount to a dynamic, longer-term focus on quality with the acknowledgement that every organization will change over time.

Fear And Succession Planning

It is a common misconception that an emphasis on succession planning means believing your management will fail. However, in reality succession planning simply means that a company’s leadership is committed to sustainability over the long haul. Succession planning represents engaging in smart risk analysis — and going further than just assessing the risk.

In even the healthiest organizations, those in leadership positions leave. People retire, get injured, or simply decide to do something different—  even at senior levels. Succession planning does more than keep the company prepared. It also maintains talent by providing mentoring and investment in key positions that goes deeper than the surface level.

Strategies For Succession Planning

Create a Talent Pool. Organizations can engage in effective succession planning while improving the company’s existing culture by developing talent pools. A talent pool includes people who are learning new skills, working with more senior personnel, and learning to take on new responsibilities.

There is more than one way to create your talent pool. You might ask your existing leadership to nominate people for the pool. Another intelligent tactic is to objectively assess candidates for the talent pool in ways that make sense within your industry. Using objective metrics also helps strengthen the case for successors.

One of the key functions of your talent pool is for candidates to prove themselves worthy of future responsibilities. They are no longer just a name on a replacement list; they are expected to be continuously improving as they receive useful guidance as part of the succession team talent pool. In this sense by engaging in succession planning with your talent pool, you assist employees in not being “boxed in” to any once narrow specialization. It is a win-win in all senses.

Review Your Situation Carefully. Review all key positions in the organization carefully, and not just with your eye on the top level of management. Make sure each department can function even with a loss; this kind of careful review often reveals one or more key positions at lower levels that entire sections depend upon. These are the positions you must include in your succession planning strategy even though they may not be upper management.

Design a Road map. Create a detailed road map for likely contingencies. Ensure that various configurations of your organization are accounted for in your plan. You are planning not just for the loss of key employees, but also to manage growth and possible shortages of talent. Remember to update your plan continually and reassess talent and skills regularly.

Make every step count. Succession planning should be systematic, and every step should be intentional. The commitment to succession planning should be a deliberate effort to develop and retain intellectual capital. And remember, your succession plan must cover multiple layers of the organization, and multiple levels of responsibility.

The Bottom Line

As you move forward with your succession planning, keep your employees in the loop. Feedback at all levels of responsibility is likely to improve your results. It is a wise choice to make succession planning central to your long-term talent management strategy.

Jagged Edge Media JAcom Consultants