How to Implement Succession Planning

This course takes a general look at the succession planning process—and explains what it is, why you should engage in it, and how to implement it into your organization.

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    1. Succession Planning: What is it, and why do it?
    2. Is succession planning really necessary?
    3. I do what I can with what I have; what more can I do?
    4. The myth versus the truth!
    5. Planning, really, that is all it takes. How do I start?
    6. Begin with the basics
    7. The Assessment
    8. Design a Model
    9. How can my plan be a success?
    10. TIPS and other helpful bits of information
    11. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report
    12. Who else is looking at succession planning?
    13. I still need help; where else can I turn?


1.  Succession Planning: What is it, and why do it?

Succession planning is the mitigating process of preparing for the loss of critical personnel in an organization.  Thus, not waiting until an employee has departed before planning a successor will ensure that the role of the position remains intact—FROM THE 1ST DAY of the transition.

2.  Is succession planning really necessary?

For many, the obligatory work place story goes something like…”Understaffed, underfunded, and overworked. How can we possibly justify allocating human and financial capital towards something that has not yet even occurred?  We just don’t have the resources!”

Well, despite this prevailing attitude, which is unapologetically based more on fact than fiction, succession planning can actually save time, money, and, most significantly, the integrity of the position.  Therefore, YES, succession planning should be a foremost consideration.

3.  I do what I can with what I have; what more can I do?  

Generally, we are aware, well in advance, that a position is going to be vacated. However, that awareness rarely transforms into action—instead it formidably looms over us as we wait for “Departure-Day.”  Then, and only then, is filling the position seriously addressed. Through proper succession planning, you don’t have to wait though. You can create a system for recruiting potential replacements, developing their knowledge and skills, and preparing them for movement into a position—and you can do this prior to a position’s vacancy.

4.  The myth versus the truth!

Often, succession planning is written off because of the misconception that it means two employees, the predecessor and the successor, working simultaneously. Whilst I wish that we all had a shadow, the idea is not necessarily to have a 2:1 (employee to position) ratio. Therefore, the idea behind succession planning is not about having more employees—it’s about have more prepared employees. In other words, the goal is to always have employees who are prepared to take the place of those who leave—when they leave.

5.  Planning, really, that is all it takes. How do I start?

Fortunately, succession planning is a well documented concept on the Internet; although, much of the information that you will need to initiate your own succession plan can be found right here in this very course. So, if you have read this far—you already started. Congratulations! Now, keep reading.

6.  Begin with the basics

When initiating development of your organization’s succession plan, begin with the basics. It can be said—Plan before your Plan. The points below can serve as a critical foundation for your plan:

  1. Know the risks—perform an assessment;
  2. Recruit quality employees;
  3. Identify employees’ developmental needs;
  4. Develop employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA);
  5. Continue to enhance employees’ KSA’s; and
  6. Prepare employees for advancement.

Think of succession planning as “success” planning.  If an organization prepares its employees for the next level, there will always be someone qualified to fill a void when it’s created.  Plus, you also retain employees because you are investing in them. Thus, their success creates success for the organization.

7.  The Assessment

The following assessment tool is designed to help you identify and log what positions in your organization have the highest potential risks for a vacancy—and the impact that it could have on your organization.  The tool can be modified in order to reflect your organization’s structure. Therefore, consider the following as a starting point for designing your organization’s own risk assessment.

  • Position (Title):
    • Location (Division, Team, etc.)
    • Employee (Name)
    • Contact Information (Employee phone #, Supervisor/Manager phone #)
    • Function (i.e., position description, responsibilities)
  • Vacancy Risk: This is the amount of time pending until the position becomes vacant.
    • Position is vacant
    • High - 1 to 180 days
    • Medium-High - 180 days to 1 year
    • Medium - 1 to 3 years
    • Low - Greater than 3 years
    • None - No perceived vacancy
  • Impact: This is the effect that a vacancy will have on the role of position. The full and actual impact to the organization should be clearly identified in the assessment. For example, the impact of not having a state administrator who is prepared to take the place of a departing administrator is that the organization may be unable to fully meet the responsibilities of the State as identified in CFR 20 Section 404.1200.
    • High - Immediate impact on the organization’s ability to uphold the responsibilities of the position.
    • Medium - Slight impact felt immediately. Position must be filled ASAP.
    • Low – Potential to create an inconvenience, but organization maintains responsibilities.
  • KSA’s for Position: This is the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to occupy the position. Use this information as an aid for identifying and developing potential replacements for a pending vacancy. It can also be used as a way to assess the current employee.  
    • Education
    • Training
    • Competencies
    • Other Needs

8.  Design a Model

Your organization’s succession planning model can be based on any of the many designs found on the Internet, or you can custom design your very own model enlisting a few fundamental steps.  Let’s take a look at a model based on the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Workforce Planning Model.

  • Step 1: Direction. Identify the goals and objectives of the plan. Know specifically what your organization hopes to accomplish. As mentioned before, this generally aligns with your organization’s goals and mission.
  • Step 2: Analyze. Using the above assessment tool, or use a similar approach, and identify your workforce, and begin developing specifications for the kinds, numbers and locations of your employees. Then, assess the current needs, and the projected needs of the employees. Consider using employee job descriptions, surveys, interviews, subject matter experts, etc.
  • Step 3: Develop. Identify the possible methods for meeting the needs of your organization. For example, recruiting, training, restructuring, etc. Will these actions ensure that employees in your organization are adaptable, prepared, effective, and efficient? In order to move to the next step, Implementation, the model must: meet the organizational objectives (Step 1); address the needs of current and future workforces; clearly identify the method for rollout, implementation, monitoring, and change; have a reasonable timeframe for accomplishing the change.
  • Step 4: Implement. Take action! Implement the ideas that you identified during the development stage.
    • Step 5: Monitor. Evaluate progress and be prepared to modify the plan if it does not align with your organization’s goals. In order to insure that effective monitoring takes place, consider developing a method or mechanism for rating the effectiveness of the plan. What works? What doesn’t?  

Workforce Planning


9.  How can my plan be a success?

Keep it plain and simple. Succession planning is more a mindset than a set of instructions. Therefore, don’t overcomplicate the process by inundating it with steps and procedures.

  • Make it part of your culture. Better yet, make it out of your culture. Your organization will be more supportive of the idea if you can associate succession planning with your organization’s objectives.  For example: SSA’s mission statement is to deliver Social Security services that meet the changing needs of the public. Therefore, through proper succession planning, SSA will always have available knowledgeable employees who are ready and capable of providing immediate service to our aging and dynamic population.
  • Channel your inner Galileo. Galileo theorized that an object will not change its velocity spontaneously.  If an object is moving in a line, it will continue to move along at the same rate in the same line. If that object is standing still, it will continue to stand still.  Be that something that moves succession planning in the right direction for your organization.
  • If not Galileo, then Newton. Often, the hardest step to take is the first step. Be the one to put succession planning into motion for your organization.  According to Newton, once you put succession planning into motion, it will stay in motion.


10.  TIPS and other helpful bits of information

The Personnel

  • Know your workforce.
  • Look inward. Discover talent that is already within your organization.
  • Provide training and developmental opportunities—and then track participation.
  • Recognize high performers.
  • Network with external sources and recruit skilled and talented employees.
  • It might have already been said, but know your workforce.

The Organization

  • Form the succession plan out of your organization’s culture, and then make succession planning part of the culture.
  • Sell the idea to management.
  • Retention is a product of advancement and development—offer opportunities for both.
  • Create a dynamic workforce.
  • Increase visibility and transparency.
  • Technologies—use it, and then use it more.

11.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report

On October 1, 2003, GAO released, before the Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, the report, “HUMAN CAPITAL: Succession Planning and Management Is Critical Driver of Organizational Transformation.”  GAO found, as part of a reexamination of what the federal government should do, how it should do it, and in some cases, who should be doing it, it is important for federal agencies to focus not just on the present but also on future trends and challenges. Succession planning and management can help an organization become what it needs to be, rather than simply to recreate the existing organization. (Link to Report)

12.  Who else is looking at succession planning?

The Federal Real Property Advisory Group FRPAG (formerly known as the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC)) is a forum for departments and agencies to review, evaluate, and make government wide recommendations about federal real property policies or actions.  In 2000, FRPC identified Succession Planning as the number one issue—and so the Succession Planning Working Group was formed. In 2001 the workgroup released their conclusions in the Succession Planning Guide. (Link to Guide)

13.  I still need help; where else can I turn?

OPM's Employment Service can assist with your human resource needs. OPM provides practical, state-of-the-art human resources consulting, tools, systems, and services specially designed for the public sector (identified below):

  • Federal government agencies
  • State and local governments
  • Public colleges and universities
  • Public libraries

For more information, OPM offers proven solutions, supported with expert advice from some of the most knowledgeable human resource experts in the public sector.  According to the OPM website  they invite the public sector to contact them for help with:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Retention
  • Organizational Improvement
  • Restructuring
  • Automation

For more information on how OPM can help, contact them at the below address, or visit them on the Web:
United States Office of Personnel Management
Employment Service
Attn: Director of Marketing
1900 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20415-0001
(202) 606-0900