Succession planning and leadership development


michael moran 10EIghty ceoToday’s blogpost is by 10Eighty CEO and Founder Michael Moran. He has a passion for helping people maximise their potential and believes everyone should have job satisfaction and a successful career. He helps organisations design jobs and career paths that maximise employee engagement. 

An effective succession planning strategy is more than a simple matter of replacing executives as they leave or retire and needs to include a robust leadership development system. A successful integration of leadership development and succession planning systems facilitates a flexible, versatile and agile succession pipeline.

In a competitive environment organisational success relies on good talent management and development planning. Identifying and nurturing a leadership pipeline is fundamental in ensuring that organisational leadership ready for present and future challenges. Focus on identifying potential gaps in key personnel and creating programmes to meet organisational needs and ensure that the system capitalises on the intellectual capital of the organisation to build a talent pool of leadership candidates.

Development opportunities are important to employees at all levels, indeed those seeking new roles frequently cite lack of development as a reason for departure. At 10Eighty we champion career planning, mapping potential career paths and working with employees to align organisational and personal objectives. Employees need to commit to an individual development plan and take ownership of their career capital and stated long-term development objectives.

Career development and succession planning dovetail – an organisation-wide perspective on leadership development facilitates enhanced leadership capacity and talent pool for succession planning. Managing the pipeline for succession provides continuity while building bench strength and optimising the potential of ambitious and committed employees.

There’s no quick fix here as leadership development is an ongoing process. Research shows that executives find learning from work-related experience to be a more powerful force for their development as compared with classroom-based learning, (McCall et al). It’s important to provide the relevant development initiatives that will prepare potential leaders for more responsible assignments. Ultimately investing in staff gives the organisation a competitive edge.

Structuring a succession plan

There are some key questions to answer in order to start planning:

  • What are key or “corporate-critical” roles?
  • What does a high-potential mean in terms of the current team?
  • How does the organisation fill key roles and what percentage of those should be filled from within the organisation?
  • How many of those key roles should have at least one identified successor?
  • How will individual employee career goals and objectives align with the succession management plan?

Succession planning supports the development of strong leadership by building the skills and competencies of staff who can best manage the organisation for the achievement of strategic goals.

Aim to design leadership programmes as developmental systems that build experience to achieve that organisational strategy by ensuring that development programmes are relevant and forward-thinking. It’s crucial to support those on development programmes to put their learning into practice, one of the most common pitfalls in development initiatives is failure to support changes in behaviour and thinking when delegates return to work; a supportive culture is essential.

Structuring leadership development

At 10Eighty we believe that leadership development is most successful when designed with a robust understanding of the specific context where it is to be applied, the personal development needs of each leader, and the expectation that leadership learning will be assimilated into working practice.

Consider some key factors that will allow the design of a suitable initiative:

  • What leadership development opportunities are available to high-potential staff, talented individuals and business-critical employees and what is the take-up?
  • How can the organisation identify and use opportunities to strengthen leadership capacity, particularly around strategic priorities?
  • How clearly does the organisation communicate its commitment to facilitating employee career paths through a range of opportunities?
  • Does the organisation provide clear messages about their commitment to leadership development?
  • Is the organisation confident it has capacity to cope with resignations or the long-term absence of key members of the leadership team?

Leadership development establishes the groundwork for succession management so needs to be designed as an integral part of the organisation’s HR strategy and designed to suit the organisational context. As a starting point, we recommend that the organisation map specific activities and timeframes around employee skills and performance development, with the aim of preparing for future roles. The agreed plan is a collaborative effort and commitment between employee and manager with the objective of building the employee’s target development capabilities.

A practical leadership development programme based on a rigorous analysis of organisational needs and leadership capabilities should focus on learning goals that are aligned with internal systems and processes so it is quickly embedded in the way the organisation operates. Successful delivery of leadership development requires a careful balance between business needs and the personal needs of each leader.

Overall our approach envisages a natural linkage – the provision of structured career management, tailored leadership development and succession planning programmes – that aligns personal, professional and corporate objectives to benefit of all concerned.

A well designed and integrated succession and development programme enhances leadership bench strength and creates a leadership pipeline while giving the organisational a highly developed workforce that is agile and fit to face the challenges and opportunities that are a constant in the modern workplace.


McCall, M. W., Jr., Lombardo, M. M., & Morrison, A. M. (1988). The lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Photo by Jessica Sysengrath on Unsplash

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