28th May 2015

The One Question Succession Plan

How many hours are devoted to succession planning in your organisation? Are you happy with both the process and the outcome? Does the process result in a pipeline of ‘ready now’ successors that is the initial reference point for every vacancy?

While Succession Planning is only one part of a holistic Talent Agenda it is a high profile one. And we continually hear that HR and Line Managers alike feel many those hours of process and forms and meetings could be more effective.

In our careers we have been involved in many many Succession Planning meetings so we can empathise. Charts and labels and arguments on whether Person X will be ready for promotion to Job Y in 12 months or two years . . . . We’ve reflected and pondered and wondered: Is there an alternative way to cut to the chase on Succession Planning?

We think there is. So here’s an approach to cut through and get to the core of what Succession Planning is really about. Think of it as an ‘HR Hack':

In a meeting, (it doesn’t have to be a ‘Succession Planning Meeting’), have the senior manager or the HR leader to ask every Manager one, simple, Yes/No question:

Is there someone on your team, who, we’d all agree, could do your job tomorrow?


It’s a Yes/No question – don’t leave it open for discussion – just get a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’.
If the answer is Yes, discussion can open up on the plans and activities involved in giving the person or persons either the final development touch to get ready for the role, or to find them suitable alternative roles should the incumbent not be moving for a while.

If a person is nominated but there is not general agreement on them being ‘ready now’, then it’s a No. After the meeting HR can put a plan in place to get the person to a resounding Yes or No before the next meeting.

If the answer is No, then the Manager should get a second Yes/No question:

Have you hired or identified anyone in the last year who you believe will be ready to do your role in the near future?


If the answer is Yes then the discussion can turn to the performance expectations and development action being put in place to ensure the individual or individuals will be ready as soon as practicable.

If the answer is No then there is one final Yes/No question to ask that manager:

Are you currently engaged in a process to make room to bring in someone who can do your job?


If the answer is Yes then the discussion can move to the HR support the Line Manager might need to bring a new person with growth and succession potential into the organisation.

If the answer is No then stop asking questions.

Three No’s would suggest this Manager is probably not the kind of development oriented manager you need to help in the organisation’s talent building agenda. That is not a bad thing in and of itself, they probably add value in other ways (you hope).

Not every manager can or will be a good people developer. It would be unrealistic to think every manager could be. Though it begs a broader talent question for HR and the CEO which is:

“How many non people developer Managers are you willing to tolerate in your organisation?”


At this point you are probably thinking, “Surely it’s not all about Succession Planning; surely the question should be about the overall development of the all members of the team?” That’s correct. It’s just that in our experience people who aren’t good at preparing one person for a higher level job aren’t likely to be doing much of impact with a larger group.

Your comments and insights would be welcome. Is anyone out there trying to simplify succession planning in their organisation?



Justin Miles
Managing Partner – Melbourne Office;
Generator Talent Group


Categories: Developing Talent

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