Aligning succession planning, strategy (Toughest HR question)

Strategic succession management checklist covers HR, operations
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/28/2012

Question: How do we align our succession planning program with our organizational strategy?

Answer: Like all other aspects of an organization’s people strategy and HR programs, policies, practices and succession planning should be closely aligned with a company’s overall corporate strategy.

Ensuring the right people are in place with the right values, skills and competencies necessary to bring about change and accomplish goals helps to drive organizational strategy forward and accomplish strategic goals and objectives.

On the other hand, it’s also necessary to ensure the right leadership team is chosen to help preserve and build upon an organization’s existing vision, mission and values. While an organization’s goals, priorities and direction may change over time, its vision, mission and values usually remain constant, at least within the time horizon of the typical strategic planning period.

Having robust succession management programs in place can help, whether or not major organizational change is planned in the foreseeable future. Ensuring leaders have the right skills, abilities and competencies can help an organization implement its strategic direction and overall goals and objectives.

For example, if an organization wants to drastically improve customer service across the enterprise, it would make sense to appoint individuals to leadership roles who demonstrate a strong commitment to customer service. To drive home the strategic importance of creating a customer-centric culture, this can be built into the competency framework as well as compensation and performance management systems.

Another example might be a publisher that wants to move into electronic publishing. Promoting only individuals with traditional print publishing backgrounds might not give the organization the skills and knowledge necessary for publishing in the digital world. In such a case, hiring and promoting at least some individuals with electronic publishing, ecommerce and web content backgrounds might help the organization achieve its strategic goals and objectives.

This does not mean, however, existing employees cannot be trained in new technologies, business processes, skills or competencies (contrary to popular belief, a competency usually relates not to an innate ability but trainable skills and behaviours). Rather than replacing the management team, it might make sense to incorporate learning and development activities focused on the acquisition of such skills into the individual development plans (IDPs) of certain high-potential employees.

On the other hand, some individuals within the organization — possibly including a handful of its leaders — may not buy into or have the desire or aptitude necessary to change and adapt in the face of radical transformation within the organization. In such cases, it may be necessary to replace them or begin the process of finding successors, internally or externally, who are ready to step into their shoes in the relatively near future.

Strategic succession management checklist

When designing, developing, administering and implementing a new or existing succession management program — and when choosing candidates to move into senior leadership roles — the following strategic considerations should be taken into account:

Overall organizational strategy

• the competitive environment for the organization and industry in question

• social, political and economic conditions

• the legal and regulatory environment

• the impact of stakeholders on the organization — its employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, creditors, regulators and the broader community

• generic strategies (cost leadership, differentiation and focus strategies)

• vision, mission and values

• existing goals, objectives and strategic direction

• financial position

• core competencies

• individual corporate, business unit and functional strategies

• planned mergers, acquisitions, divestitures or outsourcing arrangements

• the degree of internationalization of the organization, its customers and its workforce

• geographic dispersion of the organization, its markets and employees.

Operational strategy

• technological advancements or changes in business processes and practices

• current and future supply chain concerns and operational capacities

• project management processes and methodologies.

HR strategy

• internal and external labour markets

• organizational culture and values

• planned organizational change, restructuring, reorganization and downsizing

• recruitment and talent management strategies

• training and development such as coaching, mentoring, internship and leadership development programs

• competency frameworks

• compensation philosophy and compensation mix

• performance management programs and systems

• the employee or labour relations climate

• employment branding strategies and programs.

Sales and marketing strategy

• the overall marketing mix — product, place, price, promotion and publicity

• current and proposed products and services and the position of key products and services with respect to the product life cycle

• changing customer and consumer preferences

• sales channels and distribution networks

• public relations, branding and public image.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

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