January 2021: Four Succession Planning Steps

Four Succession Planning Steps for 2021

Generally, businesses have two sources of irreplaceable knowledge – people and database(s). If either is lost, years of insight can be erased in an instant, forcing companies to learn a hard lesson. While organizations recognize the need to implement data backups, fewer see the critical nature of developing a succession plan. The key to successful succession plans is not waiting for signs a transition is needed, but proactively developing a plan and options. This will ensure knowledge is shared from person to person long before any departure and that your company is prepared for the future.

It is essential to recognize that succession planning is a necessary part of the talent management process. Last year provided the opportunity for leaders to understand their employees’ strengths and weaknesses better. It also demonstrated why it is critical to make sure the right leaders are in place should a change happen quickly. Now is the perfect time to start the planning process.

Here are four strategies to consider when planning for your business’s future.

1) Be Deliberate and Proactive

A big obstacle to overcome when succession planning is changing people’s perceptions. Start by educating the leadership team on why it is vital to address it now and why not to put it off. Even if retention is high, planning takes years. Internal knowledge needs to be captured long before a replacement is necessary. Succession planning can also be positioned as an opportunity for employees to build their own career path.

2) Identify Future Leaders Early

The process takes time, which is why replacements need to be identified early. The average number of years an employee stays with a company has decreased, so it is essential to identify multiple potential future leaders. This will protect your business in the event critical employees leave.  Because of the pandemic, you may have lost key players and need to reevaluate key roles and replacements.

When looking for leaders, technical aptitude alone is not the determining factor. Each seniority level (CEO, CFO, Regional Managers, etc.) has its criteria. Still, in addition to that, leaders need a wide range of traits such as strategic problem solving, adaptability, and forward-thinking skills (to name a few). These questions can help determine if a candidate embodies any of these qualities:

  • Are they engaged? Did they participate in strategic problem solving during the pandemic?
  • Do they align with the company vision? Are they focused on the future?
  • Are they open to new ideas? Do they share ideas with others? Are they quick to adapt?
  • Do they inspire others? Do they understand what motivates the team?
  • Do they communicate well? Do they strive for clarity?
  • Are they a good cultural fit? Are they likely to remain part of the company?

Remember, candidates, do not need to be ready now. You are not necessarily tapping the potential for now. You are looking for someone with room to grow into a position. Look for the potential and foster it as you train and test them to be future leaders.

3) Determine How to Measure Readiness

When looking for internal talent, evaluate each candidate’s innate skills and aptitudes. Understand which needs refinement and which needs nurturing. Also, consider any missing skill sets and how to foster them.

When evaluating readiness, make sure the candidate is dedicated and aligns themselves with the strategic direction of the organization. These two questions will help gauge readiness:

  • How is this employee perceived internally?

During this assessment, understand how they interact with others. Do they demonstrate leadership skills and confidence? Look at this individual through the eyes of the coworkers and leaders they interact with daily. Get feedback from peers, supervisors, and even customers.

  • What are their unique characteristics? What are their motivations, interests, and values?

When asking these questions, look at their job positions, how they have handled incremental challenges, and how their career has developed. Ideally, throughout their career, they have grown by rising through the ranks, taken on more responsibility, and worked hard.

Once this person is on a clear path to succession, they should be mentored by the person they will replace prior to a public announcement. This pragmatic step will support a seamless transition.

4) Be Confident in Your Choice

Consider succession planning as you would any other kind of strategic plan. Take your time and assess your options as much as possible, and evaluate talent objectively. If the process creates internal conflict, you may need to consider hiring an objective, neutral third party to help guide the leadership team through the process. Set a high bar, and communicate your expectations.  Remember, this is an investment in your company’s future and a method to retain your strongest performers, who often have a strong desire to know the direction of their careers.


Include succession planning in your executive leadership strategic meetings for 2021. Use the lessons learned from last year to direct the process and address the critical attributes needed for an effective leader.

At Warren Whitney, we help develop plans for a smooth transition to the next generation, whether that’s a family member, a current employee, or someone from outside. We develop succession plans that include: Current Organizational Assessment, Emergency Absence Procedures, Employee Development Plans, Communication Plans. Additionally, we provide search services to help identify candidates who are appropriate for your organization.  Let our strategy team get your succession planning on the right path.

If you have any questions or seek further clarification, please call us at 804.282.9566. We do not charge for the initial call. We want to learn more about your needs.

We Make Potential Happen.