In his book Effective Succession Planning, William Rothwell writes that “succession planning is a deliberate and systematic effort by an organization to ensure leadership continuity in key positions, to retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement.”
Organizational effectiveness consultant Anne Kurzenberger says it in a simpler way: “Succession planning is described as having the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time.” Both definitions give great insight into the process of succession planning.
Deliberate is the first word that jumps out of Rothwell’s quote. He is suggesting that there is an overt effort by a company to plan for and groom successors to key positions. It is something that should not be left to chance. When a company makes a deliberate effort to develop candidates and plan for a transition there is a much greater chance that the transition is going to be successful.
Rothwell also uses the phrase “to ensure leadership continuity.” A great risk in any leadership change is transition time – the period of time it takes for a new leader to be identified, to get up to speed, and to be fully functional in the role. Leadership continuity seems to suggest an uninterrupted and seamless transition. There is no loss of momentum. The organization moves forward under new leadership in a very carefully orchestrated and smooth transition. There is little to no “downtime” or distractions from the mission of the business.
The concept of retaining intellectual and knowledge capital is also an important component of succession planning. The transfer of intellectual capital from one generation of leadership to the next is an obvious and critical issue to ensure continued business success. Without a planned process, there is great risk to the business that intellectual capital will simply escape.
The idea of encouraging individual advancement is another important concept within succession planning. Retaining the best and brightest in an organization is critical to the long-term success of any business. Without opportunity for advancement, it becomes very difficult to retain those star employees. They will surely find greener pastures elsewhere if there is no opportunity to advance.
Anne Kurzenberger’s quote also makes a great point about timing. Getting people ready to be in the right place at the right time likely takes a great deal of planning. Having candidates ready to early or too late will have an impact on the business in one way or another. If a candidate is not ready when needed, the business suffers. If they are ready too early and are left waiting around, there is a great risk of losing them. While perfect timing can be difficult, it is far better to plan as best you can than to not plan at all.
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