The Importance of Succession Planning

Business Continuity Planning

The Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) defines Business Continuity Management (BCM) as “A holistic management process that identifies potential impacts that threaten an organization and provides a framework for building resilience with the capability for an effective response that safeguards the interests of its key stakeholders, reputation, brand and value creating activities. The management of recovery or continuity in the event of a disaster. Also the management of the overall program through training, rehearsals, and reviews, to ensure the plan stays current and up to date.” (n.d.) Within the scope of BCM comes succession planning, defined by DRJ as “A predetermined plan for ensuring the continuity of authority, decision-making, and communication in the event that key members of executive management unexpectedly become incapacitated.” (n.d.)

The Importance of Planning

Why are these planning aspects critical to businesses and governments? Planning to do business during a crisis is critical to being able to perform essential functions during and after the crisis. The prognosis for those without a plan is certain business death:

Of businesses without a disaster recovery plan:

> 80% will fail in just over a year,

> 43% will not even reopen,

> 93 percent that experience a significant data loss are out of business within five years according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. (Hatter, 2004)

Clearly, the evidence supports the need for a business to be prepared for disasters. The question then becomes, “What is a disaster?” DRI International offers the following as the definition of a disaster: “A disaster is a sudden, unplanned calamitous event that creates an inability on an organizations part to provide the critical business functions for some predetermined period of time and which results in great damage or loss.” (2006)

Implied in the DRI definition is the loss being to an “unacceptable” level. If a sudden, unplanned event occurred that prevented the business from performing critical business functions and was going to result in a loss of fifty million dollars due to law suits, but the company carries insurance for one hundred million dollars, the loss may not be “unacceptable”. The loss has been mitigated with the insurance; however, the company may now be battling a public relations issue related to the law suit. As pointed out in a Harvard Business Review, “Companies sometimes misclassify a problem, focusing on the technical aspects and ignoring the issues of perception.” (Augustine, 2000)

Utilizing this definition of disaster opens the planning paradigm to many different scenarios outside the traditionally defined natural, manmade, technological, and terrorism events. Suddenly the definition of disaster allows for more varies considerations, including product recall; class action and individual law suits; and executive defection, resignation, termination, arrest, contract expiration, or death. All of these items can create “an inability on an organizations part to provide critical business functions…which results in great damage or loss.”


The definition of disaster also helps mitigate another phenomenon in crisis response: denial. As Augustine points out, “This stage of crisis management is often the most challenging: recognizing that, in fact, there is a crisis.” (Augustine, 2000) Setting a quantifiable threshold for “unacceptable” loss allows executives to discern that there is a crisis situation that requires a response. It is only when the crisis is acknowledged that the inevitable effects can be mitigated.

Succession Planning

Wikipedia defines succession planning “as the process of identifying and preparing suitable employees through mentoring, training and job rotation, to replace key players such as the chief executive officer (CEO) within an organization as their terms expire.” As explained in this statement by Brent Filson, “It’s a common occurrence, a CEO leads a company to record earnings, retires and in just a couple of years, those once high-flying earnings are dropping like shot ducks. Observers blame the new leadership team. But most likely the observers are wrong. It’s not just the new leaders who are screwing up. Instead, it was most likely the former CEO… So when a decline follows the departure of great leaders, the safe bet is that those “great” leaders haven’t hired and developed leaders – and so really weren’t great at all, no matter what results they got.” (Filson, n.d.) A trait of excellent military leadership requires the leader to develop the personnel below him to ascend in to the position the leader occupies so the leader is free to move up the ranks, or so the subordinates are capable of handling battlefield situations if the leader is incapacitated. A military unit should not have the survivability of a snake, where cutting off the tail is not a problem, but cutting off the head (leader) results in the death of the unit.

Development of the next generation of leader is a paramount task. “It is instructive here to recall that Noah started building the ark before it began to rain.” (Augustine, 2000) Prior planning prevents poor performance. Without the proper methodology being utilized to prepare for personnel turn-over or unavailability, the corporation can be sent into panic hiring, can fail to continue to implement strategic plans because of the loss of a key individual, and multiple other pitfalls because they were not ready.

Short Term Needs

Planning must account for short time frame notification items. What does the company do when two executive VPs are killed in a plane crash? Who has been groomed and is ready to be “acting” in their place until they can be either ramped up to the permanent replacement or until an executive search reveals the best candidate? When a top executive resigns and moves to a competitor, has the company already instituted a program to ensure that individuals know that strategic plans, customer accounts, and other vital critical business information is in fact the exclusive property of the company and had these key individuals sign off on non-disclosure agreements? If they had not done this prior to hiring the defecting manager, are they prepared to ensure that incoming key personnel are required to affirm their loyalty in exchange for the position?

Mid-Range Needs

Personnel will retire. The text gives the example of GM and their planning process. Any company that is not preparing a like plan for grooming and testing the capabilities of personnel who may be tapped to be the top executive must seriously consider how prepared they really are to do business. Failing to plan is, in effect, planning to fail.

Retirements with long lead windows give companies ample time to try people in the proposed position, to be more closely mentored, or to be given charge of substantially more responsibility to see how they are able to handle the situations that they will be confronted with when they are given the nod.

Long Term Needs

The United States is entering an era where the baby-boomer generation population will begin to affect balance in the worker availability pool. Starting in 2010, the demographic growth-rate balance starts to shift, and by 2015, the 65-and-over age group starts to grow at a faster rate than the 20-to-64 age group.” (Allier, J.J. and Kolosh, Keneth, 2005)

“Organizations that understand the immediacy of the baby boom exit and thoughtfully prepare for it will be in the best position to achieve unmatched success.” (Allier, J.J. and Kolosh, Keneth, 2005) The authors offer questions businesses should be asking themselves to prepare for the coming demographic change. Some of them are:

> What are your company’s demographics (age, gender, position, years in position and anniversary date)?

> What are your company’s retirement policies? Is early retirement encouraged or discouraged?

> What mechanisms and programs must be put in place now to capture key competencies and critical work knowledge of employees who will be retiring?

> Will your organization need to increase its reliance on new immigrants?

> If your organization is offshoring, what is the age breakdown of your overseas partners?

> Will your offshoring partners face a labor shortage that may impact their ability to provide services?

(Allier, J.J. and Kolosh, Keneth, 2005)

Allier and Kolosh also point out that businesses need to position themselves to deal with the needs of an aging population. There may be a need for unique skill sets and competencies, as well as a need for new or modified product designs to be marketed to the aging population. These issues tie back into business continuity planning. To continue to be competitive in the future, businesses have to prepare for the shifting change in the average age.

Not Just for Executive

When developing succession plans, it is important to remember that the scope should not be narrowly focused to just the executives of the corporation. Steve Nelson, the MSPB’s policy director, said, “Succession planning is often focused on top leadership when we need to be looking at critical skill areas at all levels.” (Welles, 2006) Marta Brito Perez, associate director of human capital leadership and merit system accountability at OPM, said, “Succession planning has nothing to do with age. Succession planning is just identifying high-risk jobs and how to fill them.” (Welles, 2006)

The Process

The process of succession planning entails assessing what positions are critical to have a succession contingency plan. The positions are assessed, and then the skill sets of the candidates that could fill these positions are assessed, factoring in the time frame that would be required to get them up to speed for the position. A training program must then be implemented to ensure that there is progress in bringing these individuals closer to a more immediate insertion rate in case a planned position turns over. This will ensure a more seamless transfer for the person in waiting and provide a measure of corporate stability in a challenging time.


Succession planning is one piece of the overall business continuity planning process. It is a piece that cannot be over looked. Ignoring succession planning will leave the company without properly developed managers and key personnel to fill the shoes of those who leave for whatever reason.


(2006). BCP 501: Business continuity planning review 2006. Washington, DC: DRI International.

(n.d). Business continuity glossary. Retrieved May 1, 2007, from Disaster Recovery Journal Web site:

Allier, J.J. and Kolosh, Keneth (2005, June). Preparing for baby boomer retirement. Retrieved May 13, 2007, from Web site clomedia

Augustine, Norman (2000). Harvard business review on crisis management. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Filson, Brent (n.d). A different leadership yardstick. Retrieved May 1, 2007, from emergingleader

Hatter, Dave (2004, August 6). Without a disaster recovery plan, your business at risk. Retrieved May 12, 2007, from Cincinnati business courier Web site:

Welles, Judy (2006, May 22). Welles: Successful succession planning: Be prepared by matching talented employees to leaders before those leaders depart. Retrieved May 3, 2007,

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