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10 Succession Planning Strategies (with Templates)

Have you ever felt worried when a key employee announced retirement? If so, chances are you didn’t have a succession plan in place. It pays to remember that no one is irreplaceable, and a smooth transition with succession planning keeps the business going strong. 

Succession planning is the proactive process of identifying, developing, and preparing talented employees to fill key positions within an organization in the future. 

It goes beyond simply finding replacements; it’s about cultivating a pipeline of future leaders with the skills, experience, and knowledge required to maintain business continuity and drive the organization forward.

A strong succession plan offers numerous benefits for organizations: It minimizes disruption caused by employee departures, fosters employee engagement and growth, and ensures institutional knowledge is retained. 

By planning for the future, you also protect your company’s stability and pave the way for continued success.

This blog post dives deep into 10 practical strategies to develop a winning succession plan, complete with free downloadable templates to get you started!

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What Is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is a strategic process within an organization that ensures a smooth transition when key employees leave their positions. It focuses on identifying and developing high-potential individuals to fill these critical roles in the future.

It’s not just about filling empty chairs; it’s about building a bench of strong leaders to keep your company growing.

Practical applications of succession planning

A well-oiled succession management plan can

  • Preserve organizational knowledge: When senior folks transition out, their valuable expertise stays within the organization, ensuring a smooth knowledge transfer. A good example is the plan that IBM implemented during the 1980s when the personal computer (PC) revolution started disrupting its mainframe business
  • Boost morale: Employees benefit from a clear path to career advancement. Just as tech giants with well-defined promotion structures keep their talent motivated, a robust succession plan provides clarity and encourages growth
  • Avoid scrambling: No more panicking when someone leaves unexpectedly. With a succession plan in place, qualified individuals are ready to step into key roles, much like when a company promotes a strong internal candidate to fill a CEO vacancy

5 levels of succession planning

Succession planning can apply to various organizational levels, from frontline managerial roles to the C-Suite. 

Imagine your company as a pyramid. At the top, you’ve got the CEO and the C-Suite—the strategic masterminds. However, a strong organization needs a solid foundation, too, with capable leaders at every level.

That’s where these five levels of succession planning come in:

  • Level 1—Frontline managers: These are the team leads, the first line of leadership, who directly impact day-to-day operations. Successful succession planning here ensures a smooth handover when a manager moves on, minimizing disruption for the team
  • Level 2—Mid-level managers: These oversee project management as a bridge between frontline managers and senior leadership. Identifying high-potential individuals at this level allows you to groom future department heads
  • Level 3—Senior management: This level includes department heads and directors who set departmental goals and oversee line management functions. Succession planning here focuses on developing future executives with the broader vision needed to lead entire divisions
  • Level 4—C-Suite: This is the executive team responsible for the company’s overall direction, goal setting, and success. Succession planning at this level involves identifying and nurturing potential CEOs and other top leaders
  • Level 5—Board of Directors: The board provides guidance and oversight to the C-Suite and isn’t directly involved in day-to-day operations. Succession planning for the board ensures the presence of qualified directors with diverse perspectives to guide the leadership

Think of these levels as building blocks. A strong plan at each level ensures a smooth leadership transition across your organization, keeping your company stable and thriving for years.

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The Benefits of Effective Succession Planning

Imagine you’re a tech company that just launched a revolutionary new product. Suddenly, your lead product manager announces they’re taking a dream job elsewhere. 

Without a succession plan, all that product knowledge and launch momentum could go with them.

Effective succession planning helps you avoid such situations. Here’s how it benefits your company:

1. Ensures continuity

A good succession plan enables a smooth handover when key employees move on. You identify a talent pipeline of individuals and prepare them to step up, minimizing disruption and maintaining a sense of normalcy for the team. 

This is similar to what happened at beverage giant PepsiCo when CEO Indra Nooyi announced her retirement. A clear succession plan with an identified potential successor ensured a smooth transition and maintained investor confidence.

2. Prevents loss of knowledge 

Institutional knowledge is a gold mine for any organization. Effective succession planning process involves knowledge transfer from senior employees to their identified successors. 

This ensures valuable experience and expertise stay within the company, even with staff turnover. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, was known for his rigorous succession planning process, which contributed greatly to GE’s long-term success.

Potential drawbacks and solutions

While it’s a powerful tool, succession planning has challenges.

  • Internal bias: Sometimes, companies overlook talented external candidates in favor of internal hires. To avoid this, implement a transparent selection process that focuses on skills and experience, not just familiarity
  • Cost of development: Training and development for potential successors can be expensive. However, consider the long-term costs of lost productivity, failed projects, and high recruitment fees when a key position falls vacant without warning

By acknowledging these drawbacks and implementing solutions, you can ensure your succession plan is a valuable asset for your company’s future.

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Common Challenges in Succession Planning

So, you’ve decided to implement a succession plan—fantastic! But like any good plan, it’s important to anticipate potential roadblocks. Here are a few common challenges to watch out for:

1. Identifying the right people

Finding the right talent to fill future roles can be tricky. Maybe your competitor, a retail giant, just promoted many young leaders; it can be tempting to follow suit. 

But remember, every company has unique needs. The key is identifying individuals with the skills, experience, and cultural fit for your specific roles and goals.

2. Keeping up with change

The world of business operations moves fast. What was a perfect fit for a future leader five years ago might not be ideal today.  

Think about how video rental chain Blockbuster likely had a great succession plan for store managers until the entire market shifted to streaming services.

Regularly review your plan and adjust based on industry changes and your company’s evolving needs.

3. Getting buy-in from all levels

Imagine a scenario where upper management pushes a succession plan without employee input. Morale might plummet, and talented individuals could leave for companies with clearer paths to advancement.  

The solution? Open communication! Involve employees in the process, explain the program’s benefits, and encourage them to express their career aspirations. When everyone’s on the same page, your succession plan has better chances of success.

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The Role of HR in Succession Planning

So, you’ve decided to build a future leadership pipeline for your company. At this point, Human Resources (HR) will guide you through the process and partner with you in creating a successful succession plan.

A strong HR department brings a wealth of expertise to the table. They understand the organization’s culture, talent development needs, and future goals.  

By partnering with HR, you can ensure your succession plan is not just a theoretical exercise but a practical roadmap for building a future-proof leadership team for your company. HR templates are also a great way to optimize HR productivity when succession planning and streamline the process from start to finish. 

1. Finding the right talent

With a robust HR program, companies can identify promising employees to fill key positions early on. 

As such, HR software plays a central role in helping HR managers identify, nurture, and develop future leaders. It can analyze performance data to pinpoint high-potential employees and utilize talent management tools to track their development.  

By implementing well-thought-out strategies to achieve HR goals, HR can ensure a pool of talented individuals ready to step up when needed.

2. Investing in people

But finding talent is just the first step. HR also plays a crucial role in employee retention. 

They can develop leadership development programs to equip future leaders with the necessary skills and work ethic and create clear career paths that motivate employees to stay and grow within the company.  

Think about how pharmaceutical giant Merck collaborated with Wharton to strengthen its succession funnel. This ensured a steady flow of qualified leaders and boosted employee morale and engagement.

3. Shaping company culture

HR fosters a culture of growth, engagement, and professional development. HR attracts and retains top talent by promoting career growth and improving job prospects.

4. Ensuring continuity

Succession planning ensures business continuity by proactively addressing talent gaps. HR minimizes disruptions caused by leadership transitions through effective planning.

5. Eliminating risks

HR helps build a strong bench of leaders, reducing risks associated with leadership changes. Internal promotions based on HR’s assessment lead to better-informed hiring decisions.

6. Cultivating a leadership pipeline

HR ensures a pipeline of future leaders ready to step into critical roles. Effective succession planning enhances organizational agility and adaptability.

7. Retaining employees

HR retains top talent by valuing employee growth and career progression. A solid succession planning framework motivates employees with clear paths for advancement.

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10 Strategies for Succession Planning

Succession planning is crucial for organizational resilience and smooth leadership transitions. But how do you get started with creating a succession plan?

This is where ClickUp, a work management tool, comes in. Use it to build, plan, and implement your succession planning strategy and help prepare potential employees for stepping up and transitioning to bigger roles.

You can use its customizable templates, such as ClickUp’s Succession Planning Template, to execute effective succession planning.

Manage talent transitions in leadership roles or identify key positions in a new succession plan through the ClickUp Succession Planning Template

This template can assist you in:

  • Identifying your current and future leadership team
  • Defining how roles and responsibilities will shift during new personnel onboarding
  • Determining the necessary skills and abilities for each position

But relying on one template isn’t enough. You also need effective succession planning strategies to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued success for your company. Here are 10 tried and tested strategies to implement:

1. Start early and continuously review your readiness

Don’t wait for a key leader to announce retirement to scramble for a replacement. Think long-term and help employees form a leadership style that supports their goals.

JPMorgan Chase’s Leadership Edge program, for example, identifies pivotal points in a manager’s career and provides leadership courses to support their professional goals.

ClickUp Goals can help by clarifying the objectives and expected outcomes of the succession planning process within your organization. 

ClickUp Goals
Assist your employees in creating a succession plan through ClickUp Goals

This feature can help you in the following ways:

  • Align succession management strategies with your overall organizational strategy
  • Define goals related to leadership development, talent pipeline, and continuity
  • Identify critical positions that require succession planning
  • Specify the skills and competencies needed for each role
  • Assign goals to potential successors
  • Track their progress in acquiring the necessary skills
  • Share goals with relevant stakeholders
  • Promote collaboration among HR, managers, and employees
  • Monitor progress toward succession-related goals
  • Adjust plans as needed based on performance

Use ClickUp’s Recurring Tasks to remind you to regularly review your plan and adjust it based on changes within your company or industry.

ClickUp’s Recurring Tasks 
Create recurrences by selecting dates on a calendar or by simply typing a day, date, or time through ClickUp’s Recurring Tasks 

2. Identify key roles and competencies

Not all positions are created equal. Focus on identifying the critical leadership roles that drive your company’s success.  

Take a cue from retail giant Walmart, which emphasizes strong leadership at the store manager level, recognizing their impact on customer experience and sales performance.

Then, define the specific skills and key competencies needed to thrive in those roles. Use growth plan templates to turn your big ideas into a concrete roadmap for team development programs.

ClickUp’s Project Management Platform can help you identify these key roles and competencies.

ClickUp’s Project Management
Assign roles and tasks efficiently through ClickUp’s Project Management

Additionally, this platform helps you:

  • Create a timeline and action plan for implementing the succession strategy
  • Customize your project to track succession planning stages
  • Ensure a steady flow of qualified individuals ready to step into critical roles

Use ClickUp’s Custom Fields to define the attributes for each leadership role—skills required, number of positions expected to be opened up, priority level for filling the said role, and more.

ClickUp’s Custom Fields 
Set different fields to identify attributes for each key position in your succession plan using ClickUp’s Custom Fields 

3. Leverage performance management tools

Performance reviews aren’t just about feedback; they’re valuable tools for identifying leadership potential. Look beyond current performance and assess employees’ growth trajectory, initiative, and ability to learn new skills.  

ClickUp’s Human Resources Platform can help you manage employee performance reviews and ensure employees follow steady growth.

ClickUp’s Human Resources platform
Ensure employee growth and development through ClickUp’s Human Resources platform

Use this platform to

  • Easily track employee performance, engagement, and development using customizable views
  • Create a central hub for employee information, enabling confidential communication between managers and direct reports
  • Organize candidates, applications, and outreach to engage top talent
  • Save time with templates, custom statuses, and automated candidate movement through your pipeline
  • Facilitate training with trackable tasks, documents, and collaborative feedback

You can also use ClickUp’s Evaluation Form Template to effortlessly create comprehensive and effective evaluations for yourself and others. 

Review how every team member contributes to the company’s goal through ClickUp’s Evaluation Form Template

The template enables you to:

  • Quickly and accurately collect feedback from your team members
  • Monitor individual progress over time
  • Pinpoint areas for enhancement

4. Invest in development programs

Just because someone has high potential doesn’t mean they’re ready to step into a leadership role tomorrow.  

Companies like General Electric are known for their two-year ‘Executive Development Program,’ which prepares their managers for leadership roles in the future. This builds a funnel of internal talent that can step up when needed.

Help employees get information and skills for new positions through the ClickUp Employee Development Plan Template

How to start your own program? Use ClickUp’s Employee Development Plan Template to:

  • Create comprehensive development plans tailored to each employee
  • Measure progress against goals and monitor performance
  • Share feedback with teammates and management

5. Facilitate mentorship and sponsorship

Pair high-potential employees with experienced leaders who can provide guidance and support.  Mentorship programs ensure knowledge transfer and accelerate leadership development.

Sponsorship programs, where senior leaders advocate for high-potential employees, can also be crucial to the latter’s career advancement.

6. Encourage internal mobility

Moving talented employees across different departments broadens their perspective and equips them with a well-rounded skillset.  

Companies like consumer goods giant P&G encourage internal mobility, allowing high-potential employees to gain experience in different areas of the business or different geographies, preparing them for future leadership roles.

Moving talented employees across departments or geographies broadens their perspective.  

ClickUp’s Workload View allows you to visualize team capacity and plan for internal mobility opportunities. This helps ensure a smooth transition when high-potential employees take on new roles in different departments.

7.  Communicate clearly and consistently

Transparency is key. Let employees know about your succession plan, the opportunities it presents, and the criteria for advancement. 

A Brandon Hall study found that companies that offer clear and flexible career paths are four times more likely to hold onto their top talent and see double the employee engagement compared to their more rigid competitors.

Use ClickUp Teams to share information and updates with relevant employees, keeping everyone informed and engaged, and enable ClickUp Comments for open discussions and feedback, fostering trust and buy-in from your workforce.

ClickUp Teams
Share information among teams using ClickUp Teams

8.  Gather feedback and address concerns

A good succession plan shouldn’t be a top-down decree. Actively solicit feedback from employees at all levels to ensure the plan is fair and inclusive. Address any concerns or anxieties to build trust.

Use ClickUp’s Polls and Surveys to gather anonymous feedback on your plan and ClickUp Chat to address any concerns or anxieties in a transparent forum.

Encourage employees to provide feedback on the succession plan and address any concerns.

Gather employee feedback and discern their satisfaction through ClickUp’s Employee Engagement Survey Template

Additionally, ClickUp’s Employee Engagement Survey Template can help you anonymously gather employee sentiment and identify areas for improvement.

9.  Celebrate success stories

Recognition goes a long way. Highlight the success stories of employees who have progressed through the succession plan. This not only motivates others but also reinforces the value of the program and its contribution to the company’s success.

Track employee achievements through ClickUp’s Year In Review Template for Microsoft Word

Use ClickUp’s Year In Review Template to highlight the success stories of employees who have progressed through the succession plan. This motivates others and reinforces the value of the program.

10.  Maintain flexibility and adaptability

Be prepared to adjust your plan as needed to reflect industry changes, company growth, or unforeseen circumstances.  

Software giant IBM successfully navigated the transition from mainframes to personal computers by adapting its succession plan to focus on transferable skills, new skills, and leadership qualities.

ClickUp’s Sprints feature allows you to do the same, that is, adapt your plan to changing priorities. Use ClickUp Task Priorities to adjust development programs or role requirements to reflect industry shifts or unforeseen circumstances.

By implementing these strategies, you can build a robust succession plan that ensures a smooth leadership transition, encourages a culture of learning and development, and positions your company for long-term resilience and sustained impact in the years to come.

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Building a Sustainable Future for Your Company through ClickUp

A well-crafted succession plan isn’t a static document; it’s a living roadmap that adapts to your evolving needs. And succession planning isn’t just about damage control; it’s a proactive strategy for ensuring your company thrives for years. 

ClickUp, with its intuitive features and powerful functionalities, can be your partner in navigating the complexities of succession planning. From building a clear strategy to tracking progress and celebrating success stories, ClickUp allows you to cultivate a future-ready leadership team.

Are you ready to take the first step? Sign up for a free ClickUp account today

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What are the five steps in succession planning?

The five steps in succession planning are:

  • Think about the positions that drive your company’s success
  • Look for individuals with the skills, experience, and cultural fit to thrive in those leadership roles
  • Equip your high-potential employees with the necessary skills and knowledge is like building the bridge’s support structure
  • Create clear career paths and let employees see a future within the company, guiding them on their journey across the bridge
  • Continuously monitor and adapt. Regularly review your plan and adjust as needed

2. What are succession planning’s seven steps to success?

The seven steps to success in succession planning include: 

  • Start early: The sooner you begin, the smoother the handover
  • Define your goals: What do you want to achieve with your succession plan?
  • Identify key roles: Who are the leaders you can’t afford to lose?
  • Develop your talent: Invest in training and mentorship programs
  • Communicate effectively: Keep employees informed and engaged
  • Gather feedback: Continuously refine your plan based on employee input
  • Celebrate successes: Recognize and reward employees who progress through the plan

If the steps feel overwhelming, think of the process as a continuous cycle, not a rigid staircase.

3. What are the five levels of succession?

Here are the five levels of succession you need to consider when building your leadership pipeline:

  • Level 1: Frontline managers: The team leaders who directly impact daily operations
  • Level 2: Mid-level managers: Oversee teams and projects, acting as a bridge between frontline managers and senior leadership
  • Level 3: Senior management: Department heads and directors who set departmental goals and strategies
  • Level 4: C-Suite: The executive team is responsible for the overall direction and success of the company
  • Level 5: Board of directors: Provides guidance and oversight to the C-Suite

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