HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Succession Planning

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Janauary, 2006), the HR Group newsletter.

We already have a marked shortage of skilled labour in virtually all sectors of our provincial economy and at all levels of our organizations, both private and public. With a booming economy, coupled with a quickly aging workforce, this shortage is only going to rapidly get worse. It is no wonder that there is immense interest in and a requirement for effective succession planning. Waiting for any provincial or federal government initiatives to produce more skilled labour is pointless; it takes a great deal of time for such initiatives, be they increased immigration or accelerated training programs, to show tangible results. If you need skilled labour now or in the near future, you have to do something about it yourself. You not only need to find skilled manpower on a regular basis, but you also need to plan for those that will be retiring or possibly leaving for career advancement opportunities that you cannot provide; this is what we mean by succession planning.

Many are now cashing in on this need for and interest in succession planning just as they did for manpower planning in general. There are any number of books and computer programs available on this particular topic. Just log on to and search for books on succession planning and you will be able to browse through 337 titles. Do a general internet search and you can bring up 554,190 websites!

We are not suggesting that literature on this topic is not useful; but we are saying, that to a great extent, there is “much ado about nothing” or at least about something that is a basic management tool.  There is no need to complicate what is essentially a relatively simple and straightforward process with reams of charts, forms, and computer program analyses.

In most organizations there is no need to develop a sophisticated data base nor is there any need to purchase “packaged programs” which only quantify what are common sense approaches that one can readily develop oneself and implement at no cost. The following steps are provided as a guide to developing your own effective succession planning:

  • Determine the possible retirement dates of all key staff members that you know are not easily replaced. This can be ascertained from payroll/human resource records based on either age and/or the requirements of your existing pension plan.
  • Personally talk to the individuals concerned and ask them what their plans are. Ensure that you explain that there is no attempt nor will there be to “push them out early”. You are purely enlisting their help in planning for their successor. Ask them if they feel that there are any staff in their department who are able to replace them or would be able to with the appropriate training. This is still a free country and employers also have “rights”; you are legally entitled to ask such questions and to plan accordingly.
  • Ensure that there is an accurate profile of the job in question and that the profile clearly identifies the overall competencies that are required to successfully fulfill the job’s responsibilities. Talk to those most familiar with the job to ascertain what the required as well as the desired competencies are.
  • If there is someone that is ready for promotion, talk to them with their manager and start preparing them for the additional responsibilities. Arrange for the manager to adopt a mentorship role. Under these circumstances, you will probably be waiving the usual recruitment and selection policy that you have established.
  • If there is someone that has the potential for promotion, but requires additional education and training, then a staff development plan must be drawn up and put into effect with the appropriate advance timing.
  • If there is no qualified candidate in the organization, consider hiring one in advance or at least for some period of overlap with the departing staff member. Determine how difficult it will be to find the right competencies and where are the appropriate places to look and recruit from. Will it be best to advertise and recruit through the normal channels or do you need to start some form of individual “headhunting” now, well in advance. There are many possibilities that you need to and can prepare for.
  • You might also consider other alternatives, if appropriate, such as outsourcing or sharing. Many organizations are beginning to share various functions and services with other organizations that are better able to provide them. If you can’t find the required knowledge and skills, or can’t afford them at today’s market rates, then consider finding another organization that specializes in this area or one that already has the expertise that you require because they are larger and can better afford to meet the competition.
  • You should consider offering retirement workshops to those that are within a few years of retirement. These are quite helpful to many people and can assist in getting them to think seriously about not only their own plans, but also the whole question of succession planning as well so that they are more motivated to assist in the process and not leave your organization without the required knowledge and skills.

N.B. Remember that Succession Planning is an ongoing process