Succession planning for itself is a useless process

Succession Planning is Only An OutputCredit: planning for itself is a useless process.  In fact, the process of filling in boxes to identify candidates for filling leadership and critical roles by itself is a total waste of executive and leader time.  In this article, I am going to explain my preferred process for succession planning.

What Succession Planning Is Not...

Replacement planning is not succession planning.  In replacement planning, HR professionals help leaders simply identify the people who are potential replacements for key people in the company.  This can be an important process as it identifies the top talent in your organization that will be the future top level leaders.

However, what replacement planning does not do is focus on the most important aspect of the succession planning process.  That important piece is the focus on the development of those identified people to get them ready for those future roles.

What Succession Planning Is...

Succession planning involves aspects of replacement planning, namely the process of identifying replacements for leadership and critical roles.  However, once those names are identified then the real conversation needs to happen.  Those conversations are about each of the identified candidates development plans, including the education, experience, and exposure elements that are required to get those individuals ready for those future roles.

Succession Planning Matrix

Education, Experience, and Exposure

During the succession planning process, the focus needs to be on what development activities are required to get them ready for the roles they have been identified as being successors for.  The easiest way to break this down is in a model called the 3Es - experience, exposure, and education.

Experience is simply providing employees with experiences that will allow them to grow, learn, and expand their knowledge and skill base.  This can mean things like experience with financial reporting if you are an up-and-coming finance professional.

Exposure is access and time in front of a number of different people and disciplines within the company.  This can be exposure to the senior leadership team so they become aware of who that person is.  It can also be exposure to another side of the business - for example an accountant working closely with the marketing department.  Overall, these exposure elements give people a better understanding of the company and more awareness.

Education is simply the courses, training, degrees, etc. that an employee must take to get certified or skilled in a role.

Different weighting should be applied to the 3Es.  Employees will get more benefit and learn more from one of the Es in particular.  As a leader, your focus on development for employees should be applied as such: Experience: 70% of development time, Exposure: 20% of development time, Education: 10% of development time.

The Succession Planning Meeting

The process for running a succession planning meeting is not overly complicated, but requires structure and a strong facilitator to ask the right question and keep the conversation flowing.  Here is a suggested process you can follow:

  1. Have each individual on the senior leadership team fill out the the succession planning matrix with candidates for the roles.  Determine how many roles it will take for that individual to be ready for the senior role.
  2. Pull the senior leadership team in a meeting to review the succession plan
  3. Starting with the first position on the list, discuss the candidates identified on the matrix.  Be sure to openly discuss whether everyone agrees with the candidates identified.  It is important to be open and real about an individuals candidacy for that particular role.  Everyone should be in agreement that each person identified is a true potential successor to the role.  In addition, it may be important to discuss what competencies and traits make for a successful candidate in that role.
  4. For each person identified as a successor, start the conversion by asking, “What key experience, exposure, and/or education does the successor need to be ready to take the role in the future?”
  5. Document the outcomes of the meeting completely in an action tracker so that the leaders are held accountable for developing the candidates who report to them.  It is the leaders responsibility (along with the employee) to help the employees gain the experience, exposure, and education required to get them ready.
  6. If there are blank boxes on the matrix, then the leaders and the HR department have a job to do to find candidates for those roles.


Succession planning is too often just done as replacement planning.  The key element that is often missed is the robust conversation about the people and the development requirements needed to get someone ready to be a successor.