Yesterday's article defined succession planning as preparing for the departure of key personnel, typically those in leadership roles, and most commonly those in the top executive spot such as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chief financial officer (CFO).

To recall Part 1’s main points, the purpose of this process is to ensure that if key people leave, the organisation can continue to fulfil its goals and carry out day-to-day operations with minimal disruption.

When succession planning has not occurred, some of the more detrimental results can include disruptions in services, production, or productivity, stalled critical projects, unclear organisational direction, a loss of critical knowledge, lost profits and, in some cases, decreased funding and programme cuts.

Today’s article continues with a discussion of the types of succession plans.

Two options

There are two general types of succession plans designed to minimise the vulnerability an organisation can face when a key person leaves:

• Planned succession plan: A planned succession plan details the steps an organisation will take when a critical person such as the CEO departs with notice (for example, his contract is expiring or he is retiring).

Typically, this will include how much notice the CEO must give, if and how he will be involved in the search for a successor, what knowledge needs to be transferred and how, and whether there needs to be overlap between the outgoing and incoming CEO.

• Emergency succession plan: An emergency succession plan details the steps an organisation will take if a critical person departs unexpectedly (for example, due to illness or an accident).

In addition to all of the components of a planned succession plan, it includes a detailed communication strategy including who will notify employees, stakeholders and the media, and how the message will be delivered.

In this case, the tone of the message will be critical. It is important to recognise that in emergency departures especially, people will likely be feeling sad about the event and also concerned about the future of the organisation.

These feelings must be acknowledged, and steps should be taken to help them grieve and to abate their fears. It is also necessary to detail who will be responsible for what within the organisation so chaos is minimised.

A critical feature of the emergency succession plan is setting out guidelines detailing the circumstances under which it must be activated. The planners must define what constitutes an “emergency” and who is responsible for “calling it”.

The planners must also outline the sequence of events that must occur in this emergency event, just like the plans you should have for any other emergency event such as a fire or technology crash.

Components of a good succession plan

A good succession plan outlines the steps needed to make sure leadership succession is managed as best as possible. It defines the critical factors and details the process that must be followed to fill the vacant position.

What you can do now

Here are some key questions that can help you get in the frame of mind necessary to address your organisation’s succession needs:

•  Do we address succession planning regularly? Do we make succession planning a part of the organisation’s strategic direction?

•  What are the critical components of this organisation or project? What things, if absent or lost or stalled, would disrupt fulfilment of the organisation’s goals?

•  Who is responsible for these critical components? Is the necessary information detailed appropriately?

•  Is there back-up if the critical person is unexpectedly absent? Is there someone else who can fill this person’s shoes, even only temporarily? If this happens, how can we ensure that this person’s workload is increased as little as possible? Who will cover for him if he can’t perform his regular duties?

•  Is there anyone with critical information that may be expected to leave at a predicted time? Consider contract dates, potential for retirement, maternity or paternity, and so on.

•  What needs to be done to close any gaps? Who should be responsible for planning how to close the gaps?

Answering these questions will set you on the right track to determining your organisation’s succession planning needs.

Article by Dr Jessica Sartori, a change management consultant in Windsor-Essex, Ontario, Canada. She consults with for-profit and not-for-profit organisations and leaders, and is the president of Organization & Leadership Development, Windsor-Essex. Visit for change management resources. Article source: