Should You Tell Employees They're Part of the Succession Plan?

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Career Management

Should You Tell Employees They\'re Part of the Succession Plan?

There’s a consistent conversation happening regarding the need for retention planning. Between the skills gap and employee disengagement, companies should anticipate turnover. Maybe it will be a little or maybe a lot. But turnover always raises the question about where the company’s next talent is coming from.

This is why organizations need to think about replacement and succession planning. It’s essential to identify where the next people to fill positions will come from. Are they inside or outside the organization?

And if they’re internal, do they need training or development to be ready for that next role? Replacement planning and succession planning are two different processes that are important to a company’s talent strategy.

Replacement planning…

… Is the process of identifying replacements for existing positions within the company. While it’s different from succession planning, it’s still an essential part of the succession planning process.

Organizations should have a plan in place should an employee leave. Who would replace them? It’s naïve to think that employees will never leave. And, a counter-offer is not a replacement planning strategy. Some employees will not be in a position to consider a counter-offer. They might be leaving for reasons that have nothing to do with money (for example, a caregiver role).

Succession planning…

… Is the process for identifying and developing people to fill positions within the company. Some organizations limit succession planning to only the top leadership roles. I believe in an expanded view, especially if the organization anticipates creating new jobs.

For example, let’s say the company has an administrative position that they believe will transition to more of a technology role. The company might want to include the current administrative position in their succession plan.

Developing a replacement and a succession plan doesn’t have to be a daunting task. If you haven’t checked it out, Halogen Software has a succession planning Center of Excellence. It includes articles, templates, and whitepapers to help organizations with their succession planning strategy.

For companies that already have a plan in place, the site also includes an assessment tool so you can compare your plan against best-in-class programs. Very cool!

Once a plan is in place, the most common dilemma that companies face is whether or not to tell employees they’re part of the plan.

Yes! Tell employees they’re part of the succession plan

Whenever I think of the reasons to tell employees they’re part of the succession plan, I’m reminded of a story from my own career. I was a director of human resources for a company that I really liked. I enjoyed working with my boss. But I was presented with a terrific opportunity and decided to take it.

The day I walked into my boss’ office to resign, I’ll never forget his words to me: “I’m sorry to see you go. I had such plans for you.”

My thought? Why didn’t you tell me?!

Even terrific organizations with outstanding benefits will have employees leave. Employees can only make career decisions based upon what they know. If they don’t know you have plans for them, they might seek new opportunities elsewhere.

Not so fast! Consider these potential pitfalls

Obviously, telling employees they’re part of the succession plan means you’ve made the plan public and it becomes subject to whispers and lunchroom conversation. As a result, several scenarios can happen:

  1. Some employees will not want to be part of the succession plan. Companies have to be prepared for this response. It might be nothing personal, it’s just not a part of the employee’s long-range goals.
  2. Employees who want to be a part of the succession plan and were not identified could become resentful and disengaged. Keeping these employees engaged will be important.
  3. The company must be prepared to handle situations where an employee’s performance dips and they should no longer be considered a part of the succession plan. Awkward? Yes, but absolutely necessary.

All of these situations can be managed with open communication. As a company is putting their succession plan together, a discussion should happen about the proper way to communicate the plan both to individuals who are included as well as those who are not.

Even if the company ultimately decides not to share all the details of their plan, they do need to be prepared to discuss with employees their future with the company. Otherwise, the employee will think they have no future and possibly start looking for new opportunities.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should employees be told they’re part of the succession plan?

Succession Planning Templates

Use these templates for best-practice succession planning.


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Succession Planning Templates

Use these templates for best-practice succession planning.


Download Now


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