Succession planning is an essential strategic process that ensures operational continuity when changes in talent occur. SIGMA’s Succession Planning Guide makes this process simple by walking you through what is required at every stage of the process.

Why Plan For Succession?

Most organizations recognize the importance of succession planning, and yet over 1 in 3 companies don’t have a plan. This can be costly. Studies show that costs associated with unplanned succession (lost knowledge, missed opportunities, client delays) have been estimated at over 10 times the price of an executive’s salary. Unplanned succession often forces companies to hire externally, rather than benefiting from a well-developed internal talent pool and leadership pipeline to feed succession. Most people know this. SIGMA has worked with thousands of organizations across North America, and what CEOs continuously tell us is that they don’t plan for tomorrow because they can hardly keep up with the demands of today. Planning for succession certainly requires an investment of time and effort, which is why we’ve developed a practical and convenient guide to walk you through each stage of the process.

What's in the Guide?

SIGMA’s Succession Planning Guide outlines our six-stage planning process. Each stage has its own tools and templates, and the guide will walk you through how to implement them at your organization:

Identify Critical Roles

Once you’ve evaluated your existing plan, you can begin drafting a new succession planning process as needed. The essential first stage is to identify critical roles. To identify critical positions, use our Critical Roles Identification Questionnaire. This tool will help you organize key positions and prioritize succession planning based on how important each role is to your organization, and how urgent the need for succession planning is. Begin with your own team, then scale this exercise to multiple teams and levels of the organization.

Build Success Profiles

After you’ve identified your organization’s critical roles, the next stage is to draft Success Profiles. Success Profiles are templates for the skills and abilities needed to succeed in a particular position. Success Profiles are similar to job descriptions in that they include position demographics (location, level, direct reports), and role requirements (education required, skills needed, and duties to be aware of). However, a Success Profile goes above and beyond traditional job descriptions in that it also includes leadership competencies that are needed for success in a role, or will be needed for success in the future. Use our Success Profile Template to outline Success Profiles for each critical role in your organization, and take a look at SIGMA’s LeaderBase if you are interested in accessing ready-made Success Profiles for common leadership roles.

Draft Success Profiles
Nominate Succession Candidates

Once a Success Profile has been built for each critical role, you are ready to nominate successors. Begin this process by using the Succession Candidate Nomination Survey to help your succession planning team evaluate the potential of each candidate. Results from the nomination survey are used to populate a draft Succession Bench that groups successors based on their readiness and provides an ‘eye-test’ measure of bench strength for the incumbent’s role. A well-maintained Succession Bench is also a great way to measure the success of your overall succession plan.

To fill out the nomination survey, begin by indicating the name of the candidate and the critical position they are being considered for. For each succession candidate, rate your confidence in their potential performance for this role and provide an estimated timeline for how long the candidate will need before they are ready to take on the position. For these estimates, it’s important to consider input from multiple sources. Consider consulting current role incumbents, senior management and succession advisory teams, leaders, peers, and direct reports of the succession candidate. To add context to your evaluation, take note of any additional information on the potential successor and their skills along with their ratings. Be sure to complete the Succession Nomination Survey for each succession candidate.

Once you’ve completed the survey for each candidate, fill out the Succession Bench Template to organize who your top candidates are for each critical position in your organization. To fill out this form, first indicate incumbent and urgency information for the key position and list succession candidates according to three levels:

  • Level A: Succession candidates ready for role in less than 3 years
  • Level B: Succession candidates ready for role in 3 to 5 years
  • Level C: Potential successors ready for role in more than 5 years

Provide the name and demographics for each succession candidate and record their progress over time. Use the Succession Bench Worksheet to track overall strength of your succession bench as well as to monitor the success of individual’s candidates in improving their skills and becoming more qualified candidates over time.

Nominate Succession Candidates
Succession Bench Template
Develop Talent

Before you can begin the development process, you will need to assess each succession candidate’s development needs. To do this, fill out the Succession Profile Worksheet. On this worksheet you will indicate target position information and report succession candidate demographics, education, and experience. Use your Success Profiles to provide position criteria, and use validated assessments (like SIGMA’s LSP-R) to evaluate the succession candidate on qualities required for the target role. List notable gaps between current candidate skills and those required for the target position in each category, then use this worksheet to identify priorities for candidate growth and talent development opportunities.

Succession Profile
Develop Talent

After assessing development needs, you can begin the talent development process. To help structure this process we’ve created a template for an Individual Development Plan that identifies gaps in talent and allows you to monitor the development progress of succession candidate. Each of your potential successors should have their own Individual Development Plan that is reviewed annually to help build their readiness for future roles.

To fill out this template, begin by providing information on the succession candidate and their current role in the organization. List all the positions that an individual may be a candidate for. Next, choose the top development areas from the Success Profile and rank the candidate’s development opportunities based on two criteria:

  1. What are the largest gaps between role requirements and the succession candidate’s abilities?
  2. What are the most important or frequently used skills of the role?

Work with the succession candidate to create their individual development plan and mutually decide which areas of talent development to focus on in the short, medium, and long-term. It is important to create measurable goals with action plans and deadlines for each area of talent development and keep detailed progress notes on the candidate’s successes and setbacks.

After you’ve completed the development plan, decide on specific talent development activities using the Development Activities Worksheet. Make sure you work together with each succession candidate to find relevant and accessible development opportunities that they are interested in. Try to provide a range of activities that will ensure the candidate receives well-rounded training, and use this worksheet to track progress and completion.

Talent development plan for succession planning
Talent Development Activities Worksheet for Succession Planning
Measure Progress

Measuring success is an often overlooked, but very important part of every succession plan because it allows you to track and communicate year-over-year progress. Set a calendar reminder to review, compare, and communicate progress every six months (at minimum). Even if you only track one metric, get in the habit of recording it, attaching a dollar value where possible, and conveying that value to stakeholders. Use the Talent Progress Scorecard to review the outcomes of your succession program across a variety of indicators, including money saved, delays prevented, and improvements to existing HR processes. These indicators will help you communicate success to senior leadership, succession candidates, and the organization as a whole.

Talent progress scorecard to measure the success of your succession plan

Video Transcription

Our succession planning template available in this free download will walk you through what is required at each stage of the succession process, along with some really helpful tips to get you started. 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 limited resources, defining what is required for success at each role, identifying those succession candidates, building and measuring your talent bench, documenting development needs, tracking progress and identifying those really important development opportunities, and finally, measuring and communicating the success of your process which we think is really the most important part of the processes, is closing that loop. Hopefully this template helps you develop and get started on your succession planning process. If you need help getting started, take a moment to check out our “Succession Planning Launch Series” which offers a simple and cost-effective way to build a robust process and ensure your organization’s leadership is positioned for success and prepared for the unknown. Contact us to learn more about our Succession Planning Launch Series that delivers a custom succession plan in just 30 days, while requiring less than eight hours, essentially two half-day sessions, from your leadership team.

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1 Benezet, J. (September 26, 2018). Why Succession Plans Don’t Happen. TRAINING INDUSTRY. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/leadership/why-succession-plans-dont-happen/#:~:text=A%20recent%20survey%20of%20over,price%20when%20underperforming%20executives%20remain..

2 Harrell, E. (December 2016). Succession Planning: What the Research Says. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/12/succession-planning-what-the-research-says.