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Talent Talk: Get Smart About Succession Planning

Image: HBO Logan Roy in the HBO series "Succession"
Organizations typically identify and fill open positions passively — they wait for a position to come open and then begin a search. Think how much better it would be to have a proactive succession plan.

How would you answer this question? My organization should have a succession plan for:

  1. The chairman of the board and the president
  2. All C-level executives
  3. All managers
  4. Every key contributor in the organization

While 1, 2, and 3 are all correct — it’s where most companies will find themselves — I am going to tell you that 4 is the best answer. We entered a candidate-driven market that really began around 2007. It was interrupted by the major recession of 2009, and briefly interrupted by the COVID recession, but the structure of the talent market in the United States is set for the next 10-plus years. Companies who understand this, and work to get in front of it, will fare better than those who are passive.

Logan Roy in the HBO series "Succession"
These days, you can't say "succession" without picturing this guy, patriarch Logan Roy brilliantly played by Brian Cox in the HBO series Succession. If you haven't seen the show, both seasons are available on HBO Max. You can even watch the first episode of season one for free here. Image courtesy HBO.

Think about how organizations typically identify and fill open positions — passively. They wait for a position to come open, either through growth or because someone left, and then begin a search until someone is hired to fill the opening. How much better would it be to have a proactive plan? Best-practices organizations will have periodic discussions around staffing levels, developing internal talent into leadership roles, and identifying potential top managers.

This process is a fantastic forward-looking opportunity. Most companies have talented employees who were perfect for the company's product mix five to 10 years ago, but where is the company headed in the next three to five years? This analysis may reveal where there will be skill gaps in the future. Perhaps there are employees who can be groomed or trained to fill these gaps if you plan for them: Give them developmental assignments, incrementally added responsibilities, and additional networking and visibility opportunities.

The bottom line: Do not wait until you have an opening to think about finding the A players for your company. You should have a succession plan for every key contributor, not just senior management. Include in that plan an allowance for planned retirements, new openings created by growth or internal promotion, and typical turnover. For anticipated openings, begin your search at least three to six months before you need the person to be in place.


About the author

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Sturgeon at

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