Succession Planning Books

While Succession Planning books typically don’t spend time on the New York Times Bestseller List, they can be a helpful resource resource for organizations looking to develop their internal succession plan. Whether you’re just getting started or are looking to enhance your Succession Planning process, I’ve put together a list of the Most Popular Succession Planning Books, along with my thoughts on each.

Evaluating Top Succession Planning Books

Comparison of Succession Planning Books - Sigma Assessment Systems

Top Books About Succession Planning

Succession Planning That Works – Michael Timms

With Succession Planning That Works, Timms does the best job of hitting the right balance between detail and practicality.  This is easily the most practical book in the mix as it provides a structured approach with companion templates for each stage of the process.  This is a great choice if you are looking for a book that will help you get something done.

My Rating: 4 / 5 -Best “little bit for everyone” book in the mix but could have done more to simplify the process for those new to succession planning.

Effective Succession Planning: Ensuring Leadership Continuity and Building Talent from Within – William Rothwell

Effective Succession Planning is easily the star in the succession planning space.  In terms of content, this is the only book you’ll need as Rothwell leaves no stone unturned.  At risk of being cliché, this could be considered the Bible of succession planning and should be on the shelf of everyone who is involved in succession planning.  That said, I would not recommend this to those who are new to Succession as they are likely to be quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content.  Starting here would be akin to running a marathon before you’ve walked around the block.

My Rating: 4.5 / 5 – This falls short of a perfect rating because of its limited approachability for those who are new to succession planning, and in part, because of my blatant bias for our SIGMA Succession Guide at the end of this review.  However, make no mistake, if you are looking for a detailed succession planning resource, Effective Succession Planning can’t be beat.

Business Succession Planning for Dummies – Arnold Dahlke

You can’t argue with the success of the DUMMIES franchise.  That being said, I do a significant amount of reading on an airplanes, and as someone who is supposed to be an expert in succession planning, you can understand why I couldn’t bring myself to read this in public. I admittedly had low expectations of this book (to the point of purchasing a used copy that apparently came from the Carver County Library).  After a quick reminder of why I was reading it in the first place and re-calibrating my perspective (and ego), I was pleasantly surprised.

This is an excellent first book for someone new to succession planning.  While it is light on templates and does little to offer direct tools that can be put into action, it does provide a great introduction to succession planning and provides the pre-requisite what to do and what not to do.   This is a quick read (you can get through this on a short flight if you don’t mind people seeing you read a DUMMIES book) to get you thinking about succession planning at your organization and provides a nice foundation for when you are ready to go deeper.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 – An easy read and great introduction to succession planning.  You’ll need something else when you are ready to take action.

Succession Planning Basics – Christee Gabour Atwood

Succession Planning Basics lives up to its’ title as it provides a very basic and high level overview of succession planning.  One major plus is that this book provides a quick and easy to understand overview of succession planning, making it a nice introduction for someone new to succession. However, Business Succession Planning for Dummies does a better job of introducing succession planning while balancing this with the right depth of information.  I will give some credit to Atwood for having a chapter on the communication piece of succession, as this is something that most books ignore. As a bonus, Atwood includes a sample Succession Planning policy if that is something that you are looking for.  Like the DUMMIES book, this offers a nice high level introduction and is well organized, but is simply not enough.

My Rating: 3 / 5 – This accomplishes what it set out to do, but other books do it better.

Succession – Noel M Tichy

In Succession, Tichy follows the traditional recipe of business publications – load up on anecdotes from large corporations (the sizzle) and sprinkle in the main concepts of the book (the steak).  Not unlike other business books, Tichy leans a little heavy on his work with GE and Jack Welch. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, as it is effective and makes for an interesting read of what some (not me) might consider a dry topic.  As an occupational hazard, I read way too many business books, so for me, the formula is becoming a little played out.

It is clear from early on in the book that Tichy brings decades of experience with succession planning and since he has actually worked with many of the companies he references, the case studies are better than most.  While enjoyable, if I was looking for help bringing succession planning into my organization, I would feel overwhelmed after reading this book.  If you buy this book I recommend listening to the audio book first.  There is some awkward setup at the start of each chapter and there is a wealth of information in this book that will be easier for you to digest in audio format. Then, grab a hard copy off the shelf and flip to page 349. There you’ll find Succession Planning: A Process Handbook, which contains all of the practical stuff you are looking for. 

My Rating: 4 / 5 – A ton of very interesting real-world examples followed by a useful and practical guide.

Your CEO Succession Playbook – Natalie Michael & Brian Conlin

Your CEO Succession Playbook is a simple and quick read which makes it a nice introduction to succession planning.  The foundation of this book is the author’s 6 step process, and includes practical advice.  However, I think it would be difficult for someone new to succession planning to put these concepts into action, as the book is simply too high level.  While there are a few templates/tools within this book, it really takes a more “narrative advice” approach to succession planning; plenty of great information but not enough detail to help someone take action.  That being said, this book would be my pick to get a CEO engaged in succession planning or an HR professional looking for an introduction into succession.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 – Really enjoyable, but tough for someone new to Succession to action.

Succession Planning Guide – SIGMA

While the books listed above are great resources, finding the time to read them can be a struggle.  Why not download our Succession Planning Guide instead?  This free workbook has zero fluff yet still delivers everything required for each stage of the succession process. All neatly packaged in just 26 pages – and most of those pages are templates.

Inside, you’ll find functional templates and tools to help you along every stage of your Succession Planning Process including:

  • Measuring the maturity of your current process
  • Determining where to focus your resources
  • Defining what is required for success in each role
  • Identifying succession candidates
  • Building and measuring your talent bench
  • Documenting development needs, tracking progress and identifying development opportunities
  • Measuring and communicating success

My Rating: 5 / 5 – No need to read 350 pages when you can review just 26, with no fluff and all the good stuff.  Simply the best resource if you are looking to get succession done.

Need Help Developing Your Succession Plan?

SIGMA’s Succession Planning Launch Series offers a simple and cost-effective way to build a robust Succession Planning process and ensure your organization’s leadership is positioned for success and prepared for the unknown.

Contact us to learn how our Succession Planning Launch Series delivers a CUSTOM SUCCESSION PLAN in 30 DAYS while requiring less than 8 hours (2 half-day sessions) from your leadership.

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About the Author

Glen Harrison

Vice President

Glen oversees SIGMA’s sales and marketing activities. As a skilled presenter and trainer, he has designed and delivered engaging and entertaining workshops and webinars to help leaders and HR professionals enhance their understanding of how our products and services can be used to realize potential within their organizations.