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Succession planning: Assessing roles that are mission critical

Succession planning is key management issue overlooked until a senior member of the team announces plans to leave or retire - often pulling the firm into crisis mode. If practices are to avoid the problems caused by lack of good talent waiting in the wings they will need to provide long term career paths for employees to be able to recruit and retain the best.

It is therefore essential for any practice to have a well thought out succession plan to cover multiple scenarios.

The objective of succession planning

Succession planning is "a systematic effort and process of identifying and developing candidates for key managerial and professional leadership positions over time in order to ensure the continuity of management and leadership in an organisation.

The objective of succession planning is to ensure that a practice continues to operate successfully when individuals occupying critical positions and hard to replace competencies depart.

Due to a growing skills shortages of real talent and the need for management to inspire confidence through leadership in this tough economic climate an interest in succession planning has revived. In addition, the internet has enhanced the mobility of leadership talent, making it easy for employees to find opportunities elsewhere and for those opportunities to come knocking on their door.

Executive recruiters and headhunters today possess greater clout and sophistication. No longer is it unfair game to recruit your competitor's best and brightest workers. Non-stop, unpredictable organisational change has caused practices to quickly identify growing gaps in talent and emerging needs for new types of talent.

Succession planning steps

The first step is to assess the strategic direction of the practice and whose role is mission critical. This includes understanding the extent to which a job role contributes to the practice's ability to continue and how difficult it would be to replace someone. Major factors that would make a position a critical one to replace include:

Company/firm structure

  • Position is a key cog to the overall organisation

Key Task

  • The position performs a critical tasks that would stop critical action from taking place if it were left vacant

Specialised leadership

  • The position requires specialised or unique expertise that is difficult to replace


  • The position is only one of it in a particular location and it would be difficult for a similar position in another location to carry out its function

The practice must never forget that the reason it ultimately needs to plan for succession is to secure the future of the practice- and that means not only retaining the right staff and clients but developing strategies to build an even stronger client base and relationships.

Succession planning requires not only plans to be put into place for retirements and future career paths, but perhaps most importantly and hand in hand with those issues, plans to be developed and implemented to build firms into highly profitable and competitive businesses.