The Ultimate Succession Plan

As a HR professional, one of the key tasks I have been in charge of over the years is succession planning. This is basically identifying the right person, lower in the organization, who can step into a particular role. While modern HR practices try to say there is a science to identifying, selecting and training the perfect person, my experience says it is much more art. There are all kinds of strategies to see who is the best person to step into a particular role. Some companies create a kill or be killed atmosphere and the strongest survive to take the job. Others don’t do anything and choose to hire from the outside anytime a position opens up. Still others spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to high priced consultants for their perfect predictive model.

It is easy to fall into any one of these camps, depending on your perspective and budget. I have met many CEO’s who only value the opinion if they are paying for it. One of the things they sell is the process to have data. With the age of data analytics, it is common for HR to put numbers to hard to measure things. My favorite is the number of people who are ready to step into a job now, in three years and in five years. Ideally, each of the jobs would have at least one person in each of those three buckets. An ideal model is one in ready now, two to three in the three year range and three to five in the five year range. In the past managers would put people in the buckets based on gut feel. The success rate was 50-50 at best. Now, there are models to look at performance and growth trajectory and potential for bigger jobs. They make you think there is science behind it, but at the end of the day, it still boils down to a level of gut feel.

There are so many companies out there trying to sell the ultimate succession plan. I am here to tell you there is a better way that does not cost thousands of dollars. Simply looking at succession planning through heavenly principles is the only way to ensure the right person is stepping into the right job at the right time. We can look at the perfect succession plan where God identified between Adam and Jesus Christ. You had 58 generations between them. While most companies worry about the next person, God was planning 58 people over 3000 years. That is what I call the ultimate succession plan. Before anyone tells me that a corporate job can’t be compared to Jesus, I agree. So instead of digging into this element, I do want to dig into the heavenly principle we do see elsewhere in the bible. Whenever God wanted a succession plan He would identify the person in advance who was going to step into the role. Then they would spend time with the person they were succeeding. Not just a little, but a lot of time. They were taught the in’s and out’s of the role. They saw examples of what the role entailed and how the incumbent handled them. They basically did this for a time. In many cases it was years.
We see this in the lost art of apprenticeship. It use to be someone would sit under a master craftsman and learn every aspect of the job until they were ready to take on the job. Now we see companies trying to accelerate this process through training, moving the person to different jobs and working on competencies they are lacking. Companies want this to last months. No wonder too many people struggle when they get the bigger role because they really are not ready for it. But the company foolishly thinks the person went through this or that leadership training and they are now the savior of the job.

Lets look at just a couple of succession plans that worked really well. You have Elijah who trained Elisha in 1Kings 19. God trained David to be the successor of Saul. Paul trained Timmothy to be his successor. Moses trained Joshua to be his successor. In all of these cases they spent time. The senior pouring into the junior. The junior watching, listening and learning. It was not a quick fix take a class and be the person. What if we took the heavenly principle of relationship and pouring our lives into people as the best way to ensure there are enough people to step into bigger roles around the company? I imagine if all of us took on mentors or mentees and were willing to invite them into every aspect of the role we would see true successors begin to rise. It may be slower, but I am positive the results would be beyond expectations.

One company I worked followed this heavenly principle without even knowing it. It cost a little extra money, but all of the executive roles (which they really focused on for succession plans) had a position called a technical assistant. This person was around the executive night and day for at least two years, sometimes longer. When the person was ready, they would almost get the pick of any job in the company. Many of these folks needed up in executive positions. So the concept works if we can look at it differently. No more building lists and slotting names. Instead, choose to invest in the lives of people and see the difference.

What do you think?


One thought on “The Ultimate Succession Plan

  1. I definitely agree. While I’m not in the business world, it also works for groups and organizations. In one organization we had a position called, conference chair. This person helped the president plan the conference. When it worked right, he or she was involved in every aspect of the planning. This meant the next year, when he/she took over as president everything ran smoothly. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work, for their own reasons, we have had conference chairs who did not take the president position. I love the biblical tie-in with the heavenly principle.


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