Succession Planning ~ Have you hired your replacement?

by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg

In a recently published survey, business leaders identified Internal Leadership Challenges as their biggest concern going into the New Year. Organizations typically invest in recruiting, training, to develop existing leadership roles. Unfortunately, this leaves them vulnerable and missing a vital piece of the leadership puzzle: Succession Planning.

Even the best Founders and Presidents recognize they cannot remain at the helm forever. Change is inevitable. Whether that change stems from an unexpected death or new strategic direction is irrelevant. Proper succession planning identifies and develops people who can step in and minimize hiccups when a key player leaves.

Succession Planning is low on most organizations’ “To Do” lists. Current leaders are threatened when leadership brings on new talent or grooms current employees to take over. As companies determine where to invest their hiring dollars, few are willing to pay to bring on new hires for a job which is currently filled. Most are willing to take the risk and “cross that bridge when they come to it”, focusing on the day-to-day and immediate revenue-generating goals.

Preparing for the inevitable future doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Building a team of employees that are prepared to assume leadership is as easy as 1-2-3.


“Life happens when you’re busy making plans.” While you are developing strategies to take your organization to the next level, unexpected illness or emergencies could unravel your leadership team. Be proactive. Assemble a succession-planning team which includes effective communicators, those knowledgeable about job competencies, and key stake holders. This group will work together to outline soft and hard skills needed for all managerial roles. By doing so, current skill gaps will surface, and informal training can take place.


You may already have top employees prepared to assume leadership roles… and they may not be your #2 or #3. Ignore current titles. Instead, provide opportunities for current employees to demonstrate leadership skills through lateral moves and special projects. Offer to mentor and cross-train so employees can gain experience in various roles. Identify those who demonstrate the competencies and soft skills you are looking for and offer hands-on training in the hard skills. Most importantly, invest in retention. You want to keep these key employees because they are already committed to your organization and will require less ramp-up time upon promotion.


Susan M. Heathfiled of reminds us, “The Baby Boomer generation is in the process of retiring. They are taking with them 30-40+ years of knowledge, experience, working relationships, and information.” Direct your hiring strategy toward filling the gaps their departure is creating. Proactively outlining your organization’s leadership needs and its long-term goals, tells you where to focus your recruiting and development efforts. Look for top-performers who have strong abilities and achievements. “Bringing in a potential new CEO at a lower level allows the board to view him or her at work for a period of time. Should such an individual prove capable as a successor, his or her tenure in the company reduces the riskiness of the transition.”

The loss of key players can undermine a company’s success, objectives, and growth. Failing to have a succession plan will make replacing those key players a painfully long and costly ride. Approach your succession planning in two ways. Develop your existing staff for advancement and let the competencies you are looking for drive your recruiting process. In the end, both will go a long way to ensuring you never have a key role vacant without another employee at the ready.

Check out our recent video on Succession Planning.

About the Authors

Ken Schmitt is the CEO and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales & Marketing Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 20 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).

Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation in all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.

You May Also Like...