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Succession Planning (Part V)

For effective Succession Planning, an impending question that organizations need to answer is:

  • How does one assess a Hi-Po's potential?
  • How can one assess whether a divisional head has the potential to rise to the CEO position?
  • What characteristics should one focus on to help an individual achieve his/her innate potential?
  • How to ensure, on a regular basis, that the organization’s Hi-Pos’ are living up to their potential and are not struggling?

Here are few indicators that signal Hi-Po's potential,

  • How well does he/she receive negative feedback?
  • Does he/she change behavior based on the feedback or .
  • Has he/she learned from mistakes/successes in past?
  • Does he/she hunt for new information to develop him/her or to improve his/her workgroup?
  • Has he/she learned a new skill in the recent past? If so, is he/she successful in demonstrating the new skill?
  • Had he/she developed his/her team mates?

Answers to these questions may provide important clues to HR/Line managers about the incumbent's suitability to the position. Appropriate action plan can be designed based upon the performance and potential matrix.

Putting Success into Succession Planning

Management succession is a process and not an event. Therefore, it needs a strong commitment of senior managers and it needs to be owned by the line management. The entire process should be simple and tailored to unique organizational needs. The same should be flexible and linked with strategic business plans. This is possible only if it has evolved from a thorough human resources review process and is based upon objective assessment of candidates. Success of a succession plan depends upon the role a CEO or senior executives play during its implementation. They need to develop a culture of coaching and mentorship with the focus on the company's competitive advantage and sustainable growth. In order to provide a real feel of situations to their successors they may withdraw themselves from the key roles for short or even medium-term periods intervening only to take corrective steps in case of gaps arising due to their withdrawal.

I would like to quote few lines from the poem, 'Indispensable Man' which suggests that CEO is a dispensable resource.

"Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it right up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that's remaining
Is a measure of how you will be missed?"

Here is a check-list for effective implementation that will remind you of the time frames by which different stages of succession planning need to be completed by your organization.

  • Within x months, assessment for all key departments and positions will be completed
  • Within x months, developmental plan for all key departments and positions will be completed
  • By year 20xx, increase in job rotation of Hi-Pos’ by x%
  • By year 20xx, increase in Hi-Pos’ leaders by x%
  • Over x years, increase in Hi-Pos’ retention by x%


Succession Planning is as critical as creating a business strategy and as important as running the business profitably. Apart from identifying competency and skill gaps, one of the critical factors for the organization's success is its ability to design appropriate performance and potential mix for each position. However, it is true, 'Well begin is half done.' For an effective implementation of Succession Planning, involvement of CEO and line managers is a must. Once it is launched, measuring effectiveness of the succession planning program is as critical as its implementation.

(Excerpts from the talk delivered on Succession Planning at Malaysian HR Congress, Kuala Lampur)

Vivek Mehrotra

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