Organization & Leadership Consulting

Succession Planning and Knowing What You Mean

succession planning

Welcome to the first in a series of blogs on successful succession planning. This one starts it off with some thoughts on the language of succession planning and how it shapes our mindsets around the purpose and process. All of which significantly influences the success of a succession plan. (This is not an exhaustive approach, though it will prompt better thinking.)

Succession: Within an organization, it is a process through which the responsibilities, authority, power, and sets of role-relationships are passed from one person to another, usually thought of within the context of leadership roles. But why limit this way of framing it to leadership roles…why not scale it to every type of role in your organization? 

Succeed: While the etymology for the words succession and succeed does not reveal strong root-word correlation, current meanings bear some consideration. The selection of one person to replace another in any given role usually involves a desire for the organization to succeed. However, it does not automatically involve a desire for the person leaving to experience a successful exit or the person coming in to experience a successful transition into the role. Thode outcomes depend on the values that drive the shaping and execution of the process. What does it mean for a person, an organization, or a process to succeed in this context?

Search and Selection: Many who oversee and/or participate in the process of finding the right person to fill a position tend to drift toward an approach that seems thorough but, due to the tyranny of the urgent, are actually over-simplified shortcuts. Shortcuts by definition are acts of avoidance. In the succession arena, avoidance behaviors must be carefully identified and chosen. One such shortcut is to think of a succession scenario as merely a search process. Effective succession requires much more than a revised job description and set of interview questions.

It is not about finding a person…it is about fulfilling a mission.

Planning: To successfully fulfill a mission, planning is essential. Many effective leaders, whether in business, the military, government, education, or the nonprofit arena, have stated in a variety of ways, “Plans are useless but planning is essential.” It is through the process of developing an intentional set of succession plans that those involved are able to more clearly identify the factors which have influenced their current reality, which are best to bring forward, which to abandon, and which to acquire and integrate in pursuit of a preferred future reality.

The act of planning increases awareness, sharpens intuition, and more effectively equips individuals and teams to respond to and shape reality rather than merely react to it.

Transition: A well crafted and executed set of succession plans serves as a bridge. A bridge’s purpose is to assist in getting from one place to another across some form of disruption. Effective leadership anticipates disruptions in ways that mitigate the potential for derailment. Disruptions are inevitable; derailments are preventable. Informed transition-thinking and intentional transition-planning help provide solid rails with which to guide an organization from one leadership era to the next. 

So, take the time together to understand what you each mean through the words you choose.


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