The following is a contributor blog from CDR Certified Coach, Ben Colvin. Ben is the President of Coaching Works, NYC and has over 25 years of experience as a corporate business executive. His mission is to combine his business lens with coaching certifications and evidence-based tools to deliver a singular perspective that his clients are able to apply in a transferable, scalable and sustainable way. Thank you, Ben, for your unique insight into this topic! 

Be honest. When it comes to prioritizing your to-do list, succession planning often loses out to higher profile deliverables and urgent tasks.

I’ve been there, done that. I’ve also experienced the consequences of not having purposeful, systematic succession planning in place.

As I planned to leave my corporate leadership position to launch my coaching business (a long-time passion), I provided additional advance notice to my employer because I knew there wasn’t a go-to successor lined up. Even with the extra time, it was tough to identify and evaluate candidates, hire someone, and create a smooth transition.

So, why is succession planning not a top priority for every business leader – senior and otherwise? I think we put it off because there’s an unspoken, perhaps subconscious, belief that identifying your successor somehow makes you obsolete or sends a message that you’re moving on.

It’s time for a reality check

Succession planning is central to your own success, not just the organization you lead. Not having a succession strategy can restrict your ability to move up to a new role out of fear that the “get up to speed” time for your replacement would harm the business. Leaving succession planning to chance – or not optimizing your current processes – doesn’t just have repercussions somewhere down the road. It impacts your organization – and you – in real-time.

If that’s not the most compelling reason to re-energize your succession planning efforts, here are a few more.

Turnover is increasing. Boomers represent 56 percent of senior leadership positions and they’re retiring in droves. Millennials change jobs more often than their predecessors, and the gig economy has increasing appeal when employees don’t see a clear path for growth.

And in a competitive job market, good leaders aren’t easy to find, especially when you’re in a time crunch because someone leaves unexpectedly. Long searches take a toll. When you have successors identified, you have a bench to call upon to fill open positions.

Make the shift to succession management

The first step? Stop succession planning. Instead, start practicing succession management.

Leaders and front-line managers have a lot of pressure to deliver on next quarter’s objectives. The topic of succession comes up periodically, and it’s tempting to tick the box and keep moving. Again, I’ve been there.

But, when an organization shifts its thinking to succession management and makes it an integrated, ongoing part of the company’s talent strategies, the effect is immediate and significant. And, if your organization isn’t ready to take the leap to succession management, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t adapt it yourself as a central part of your personal career strategy.

Here are five essentials of successful succession management.

1. Expand the definition.

Too often, we think succession is just about C-level roles. Today’s flatter, dynamic org structures push leadership accountability out into the organization, making it imperative to include critical roles from across the company in succession management processes.

2. Make business units the driver.

C-Suite involvement is important, but business unit buy-in and ownership are critical. In other words, top leaders must support the process, provide resources, and actively participate. But, to truly get proactive about succession, business leaders – across all levels – must drive the process.

3. Work out your core competencies.

Identify critical path roles at all levels, and then create core leadership competencies. Think about the competencies needed today – and anticipate what the position will need in the future. Most importantly, don’t make the competencies one-size-fits-all. Tailor them for each role and build constant reviews and refreshes into the process from the outset.

4. Get qualitative and quantitative.

It’s a best practice to make the identification of potential successor candidates a fully integrated element of your talent management and recruiting strategies. As you assess your talent pool, use qualitative measures, including performance reviews, 360s, and talent planning input. But don’t stop there.

Add quantitative measures as a standard component. Empirical, evidence-based insights that identify leadership characteristics and readiness are an invaluable tool to neutralize unconscious bias and executive “cloning.” They also help to identify candidates who aren’t immediately obvious, the hidden gems uncovered by the process who are ready to step in and hit the ground running.

Finally, quantitative measures will help you assess any current and future talent gaps to be addressed within recruiting and hiring strategies.

5. Focus on candidate development.

Once you’ve identified candidates with potential, put them on a track to develop the skills they’ll need in the timeframe that the organization will need them. Start with existing leadership development programs. Then add tailored, individualized components based on the role and the person. Whenever you can, mix focused training and coaching with experiential elements like career pathing and stretch assignments.

The outcome

Moving to a fully integrated succession management process that includes objective, evidence-based insights will increase the confidence in your successor decisions and the predictability of the leaders’ success when they take the reins from their predecessors. Even better, the transition can be accomplished with minimal impact on the organization and the teams they lead.

Succession management that’s purposeful and integrated within your talent strategy, rather than an annual exercise, pays off in improved leadership continuity, employee growth and retention, and leadership diversity.



Ben Colvin, CPCC, ACC

President, Coaching Works NYC