Succession Planning

by Martin Haworth

Step 1 - where do you want to be?

If you are to be successful, your succession planning activities need to embrace careful consideration of where you want to go, creating a vision to act as a guide for every activity you undertake in the processes that are to follow. This concept of creating a vision is nothing unusual. Indeed, having a vision within a business context is a tool that is frequently used to draw together the actions that are vital if you are to prosper.

So, before you start working on your succession planning activities, it’s worth taking time to become really clear (and honest) about what it is that you are going to achieve in the future. The crucial first step, in this case, is to envision ‘what good will look like’. Take time over this, where possible working together with the key people in your team.

A succession planning vision

In a succession planning context, your vision for a great future requires you to focus on what it will be like when the following things are happening:

  • There is ongoing development of people in the workplace
  • There is always experienced cover for all eventualities
  • Each key member of the team, including the manager, delivers their own role well
  • There are generously-shared skills throughout the team
  • Coaching conversations happen naturally
  • Employee absence and turnover levels are minimised
  • Individuals have an understanding of their potential and how to release it
  • There is a flow of employees across teams, enabling people to gain wider experience
  • Team members are motivated, enthusiastic and enjoy their work
  • ‘Me’ is replaced by ‘we’
  • The culture is mutually supported, excited and authentic.

Exactly how you fit these measures into the context of your own team will vary from person to person and company to company. The level of expectation will always be high, though there may be additional ways to describe the team outputs that suit your team more accurately.

Developing the skill to visualise what the team will look like when succession planning is working well serves more than one purpose: it’s great for developing your team’s aspirations for the future and it’s also a good way to get the creative juices flowing!


When using visualisation techniques, it always works best when you use all the senses that are available, because different people use a different combination of senses to visualise.

So, when you are describing the future through visions of the team working successfully together, consider what it will ‘sound like’, ‘look like’, ‘feel like’, ‘taste like’ and ‘smell like’. This will make for a fun activity, bonding the group, as well as adding huge value to the activity.

Wondering what effects succession planning will smell like might sound like a bit crazy to some people, yet that very strangeness will stimulate the thinking of others in ways that cannot be predicted.

It’s important that visualisation is not hindered by fitting the future to what you are starting with, or your vision will be held back.

Succession planning – initial activities

  • Prepare a time when you and your people can get together to discuss what your combined vision of what the perfect future would look like.
  • Grasp the opportunity to debate the outcomes, bearing in mind that all ideas are good and encouraged, however crazy they might seem to be.
  • Develop a vision that can be captured and used as you go forward, acting as a template for the activities to follow.

The next step, before you start your full-blown succession planning, is to be clear on what is the most productive working structure for your team.

What skills do I need?

Well, you can’t get away without some valuable skills, but most often, most managers will already be good at or at least have an understanding of the ones you need. Here are some areas for you to look at especially:

  • People skills
  • Delegation
  • Visioning
  • Performance management
  • Communication
  • Career development
  • Strategic thinking
  • Coaching.