World Class Succession Planning

World Class Succession Planning

By Liz Lawson

The case for taking a proactive approach to succession planning has never been stronger. Finding and appointing external hires is 1.7 times more expensive than developing and promoting internal candidates. What’s more, the failure rate of external hires runs between 40% and 60% compared with a rate of 25% for internal appointments.

However, predicting future leadership requirements is tough – the pace of change and differences between organisations mean it can be difficult to forecast demand and implement a pipeline of capable talent.

In response, Wickland Westcott has been researching the fundamental principles that lie behind successful talent and succession programmes. We studied a range of sectors and organisations, and cross-referenced our findings with a literature review of recent academic studies. This led us to develop of a simple framework for the design of new succession systems, as well as for the audit and improvement of existing programmes. At the heart of the framework are three factors:

  1. Context relates to the importance of ensuring all talent initiatives are aligned with the organisation’s goals, strategy, values and wider HR processes. It also involves ensuring succession priorities are consistent with likely future organisational challenges.
  2. Strong Processes are required to support succession planning tools. An emphasis on robust methods of knowledge management is crucial, alongside clear and well understood managerial processes that embed a succession oriented mindset throughout the organisation. Achievement of a succession-mindset is signalled when line mangers take ownership for developing high potential staff, and readily looking for internal candidates who can be developed rather than rushing towards the external market.
  3. The Content factor refers to the quality of the tools used within talent system, and the accuracy of information used to calculate the needs of the organisation. Feeding in accurate, up to date information about talent requirements and current capability is essential to the effectiveness of any succession programme.

To support the development of excellent succession and talent programmes Wickland Westcott has developed a simple checklist around these three factors, which can be found here.

In summary, best-in-class organisations use succession planning as a strategic enabler for both current and future business needs. It is not just the content of succession management processes that are vital, the wider business context and how the process is deployed and monitored must be considered in order to optimise the effectiveness of succession planning.

What next?

The identification of these three factors has helped move forward our own thinking on succession planning. At Wickland Westcott we are learning all the time however, so if you have additional experience or would like to discuss any aspect of leadership, please contact Liz Lawson on 01625 508100 (

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