SUCCESSION planning is a process through which companies plan for the future transfer of ownership and/or top management. However, do not confuse succession planning with replacement planning.

While replacement planning is often referred to as a means of risk/crisis management aimed at reducing the likelihood of a catastrophe from the unplanned loss of key personnel, succession planning entails a longer-term and more extensive approach towards the training and replacement of key individuals.

There is not enough time to conduct succession planning for all employees, so you have to ensure that you plan for succession for the critical few.

An organisation should ensure leadership continuity in key positions, retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement.

Strategic approaches

Filling senior positions with appropriate young talent and making certain that the necessary knowledge is transferred during the shift is a conventional situation but sometimes, you may have to deal with emergency replacements or "worst case scenarios".

Emergency replacement planning is focused on an immediate need caused by a circumstance within the organisation --retirement, growth or contraction of business.

Emergency knowledge retention is an option if your company is about to lose specialised knowledge and does not have a successor to receive the information. To avoid losing this valuable mind share, a knowledge management team could be created to identify top experts and videotape them.

"At risk" list

The "at risk" list is a device to ensure that an organisation knows which employees are at risk -- which means that if the organisation lost them it would be significantly disadvantaged -- and then does everything possible to keep them.

Whatever dimensions you include should be relevant and particular to the group under discussion. Human resource has a role to ensure that each of those individuals on the list gets an annual employment check-up in the way that they would receive an annual health check or financial advice.

Tailored HR tools

Many of these were invented when there was more time available than today. Competency frameworks work well only if they are sufficiently precise in determining the difference between good and bad performers.

The question is not whether these products are any good but whether the output is worth the time and effort spent. A key component of HR's role is to manage talent. To do this, you have to define knowledge and skill sets for all major functions, key performance criteria, and rate people against both dimensions and ensure that effective management processes are in place for different categories of employees.

Key competencies

Personality should be only one consideration when you look at the main qualities a leader should have. Other qualities such as strategic thinking ability, financial analysis capability, the ability to manage other executives or other managers are also important. While there are many standard core competencies, like the ability to communicate well, you must also think about those competencies that are specific to your situation or industry.

Choosing a successor who is good at collaborative management is important. If a successor doesn't work well with you, the management team, and/or the other stakeholders, then his chances of success diminish.

Successors must respect present company bonding with internal as well as external customers and vendors. Establishing a sense of continuity during succession is important, and maintaining key relationships is paramount. If a successor strains or breaks business relationships, it could undermine your business's stability, and ultimately cause employees to leave or put your business at financial risk.

The successor must demonstrate commitment to the values your company was built on. The candidate should not just recognise these values, but must also embody them.

Cultivate a team of people who can back this person up and who are prepared for a new successor. To succeed in the new position, the successor has to be readily accepted by the team.

He or she needs support, and without the teams' buy-in, you risk undermining the succession process. In this environment of new challenges, the culture has to be supportive and blame-free.

The very best at succession planning enable a very safe place to try out new skills. They see this work as an investment for the future of the business. It may cost a little money, involve more training and take a little more time. But it is very worthwhile.

While it would be easy to take one career path, in cases where individuals are nurtured for a bigger involvement, organisations where succession planning is held in high regard "shuffle" people, sometimes out of context, to broaden their skills.