Advanced Succession Management Practices that Create a Structured Approach to Identifying and Developing Future Leaders.

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Wowledge Expert Team
Principal level
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This guide is part of a progression set comprised of Core, Advanced, and Emerging Succession Management practices.

What it is

Succession Management is a formalized and structured process that drives how executive and critical skill roles will be staffed and replenished. It is designed to meet business objectives by continually sustaining the top leadership and key contributor structure over time and across the enterprise. It establishes planning for replacements in strategically critical roles, bringing a review of lower-level candidates with potential into longer-term planning for development. It moves successor and "high potential" (HIPO) identification beyond a single leader’s opinion. It introduces multiple objective criteria into the process that help form and augment the observations and opinions of numerous leaders. This introduction of increased objectivity opens the aperture into a more robust and less biased view of those with the potential to advance to positions of greater contribution and authority.   

It formalizes the sharing of data on successors and HIPO candidates to gain leadership alignment around the identification and development planning of these individuals. This can increase the soundness and validity of the selection of these individuals as future leaders worthy of enhanced investment. By adopting these practices, the organization is also committing to formally structured development of the entire pool of successors and HIPOs, creating a culture of leadership development that endows the organization with a continuously growing and improving leadership team.

Why use it

When well-constructed and -executed, Succession Management improves the leadership and critical position bench strength to have a continuous feeder pool of successors ready to replace departing individuals. From a business disruption perspective, losing a leader or key contributor can be a setback that can take months to years to recover (from the vacancy timeframe through the time required for acclimating the new incumbent). Such personnel losses can also overtax other executives and teams as they must perform the work that the previous incumbent left behind.

Introducing more objective measures of future potential and skills/strengths that overlap with higher-level job requirements heightens confidence in the process and increases the likelihood of successful and sustainable replacement strategies. It clarifies the development needs of these valuable resources while engaging management and leadership in the shared responsibility for the “care and feeding” of these individuals. These practices also reduce talent gaps that might otherwise go unrecognized and unfilled. By naming an individual a future successor or HIPO, they also increase the likelihood of retention and preserve skills and investments in the high-value performers who are proven to be a strong “fit” within the company culture.


Adopting these practices significantly boosts the organization's ability to survive and quickly recover from the sudden losses of key executive and senior contributor-level job holders. It ensures that core strategically critical capabilities are adequately staffed and led on a near-continuous basis, with (ideally) multiple “ready-now” candidates prepared to take over. The use of multiple criteria for both potential and readiness provides greater objectivity. It overcomes the all-too-common human perception biases that plague future projections of performance and success projections. Shared observations can bring better and more balanced assessments by bringing leaders together to review standardized and comprehensive documentation on employee skills, experiences, performance, and capabilities. They also allow HIPO employees to be viewed as corporate resources who can be moved for their most effective development without being subjected to “talent hoarding” by their managers. Using all the multi-source assessments and observations, individual development plans can be best crafted in a way that merges the company’s skill needs with the capabilities and ambitions of the individual. Establishing solid tracking and reporting on the development plan execution also builds accountability for their development into the job requirements of the employee and their manager. It creates a governance opportunity for top leadership to oversee and ensure that assigned growth opportunities are taking place in service of the larger organization’s need for enhanced replacement readiness.

Practice guides at this level

Planning for future succession needs in key and critical non-management roles.

Identifying current and upcoming talent gaps, new positions, and at-risk incumbents.

Developing multiple and objective selection criteria for replacement candidates.

Developing and adopting of five primary formal, structured criteria for determining successors and HIPOs criteria that offer the best likelihood of accuracy in the long run.

Identifying and calibrating successors and HIPOs for each role through structured and standardized assessment sessions.

Reviewing, considering, and aligning on succession candidates through a collaborative process in which candidates are vetted against objective standards and aggregated observations/opinions by experienced leaders.

Planning individually tailored development for all identified successors and HIPOs.

Creating tailored development plans for each selected successor while ensuring accountability for their completion.

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