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Effective Succession Planning - Preparing for the Evolving Future of Your Business

Sarah A. Scala, M. Ed & OD, ACC

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

What is succession planning?

I look at succession in two stages; succession planning and succession development. This blog will focus on the planning part. Succession planning is a process of identifying current and future leaders of your organization. This is sometimes done using a 9-Box Grid or performance and talent management software. The purpose of succession planning is to ensure that organizations have identified potential future leaders and take a look at what gaps or skills need to be developed to prepare these future leaders to step into a higher or a different level role.

You don’t need to succession plan for every single member of your team unless the organization is very small and it would be beneficial to include everyone. Often, succession plans are designed for the c-suite executive level leadership or directors and above (depending on the size of the organization). However, many of my clients also include those individual contributors who are in high impact roles for the organization. These are folks that, if they were to leave or something happen to them tomorrow, the business would be at an instant disadvantage.

The 9-Box Model



The 9-Box model evaluates both potential and performance. Based on mapping out the leadership team or group in the organization, it becomes a good starting point to see what your work force or your executive team looks like. With a 9-box, you end up with a some people being identified as high potential and high performance - those are typically identified as our stars. You may also have employees that have low potential or performance and those employees are a risk; either they're inconsistent or they're simply average or moderate performers. You can also identify employees that have high performance but maybe low potential or folks that have high potential with lower performance. This last group are the majority of employees who are neither rock stars or under performers. They help to maintain the foundation of the company.   

It is always interesting when I first start working with the 9-box. Many organizations are optimistic about their leaders’ performance and potential and it's not uncommon to have the 9-box weighted very far to the upper right. I identify this as a risk for my client’s organization because if every single member of the company or the leadership team is in a high potential or star ranking, we either need to promote them within the next 6 months or we risk them leaving the company. Once the initial 9-box phase is built, we often debate and use deeper analysis to complete the layout of the organization using the 9-box.

Succession Planning is just the start

Many companies assume the succession plan is complete by laying out their workforce or their leadership team with the 9-box. This couldn't be further from the truth. This is simply a starting point or prerequisite for effective succession. An important consideration when designing a succession plan is how the organization will communicate the results. For those that are in risk positions, what procedures are already established to help the employee close skill gaps or exit them from the organization? Some organizations have performance improvement plans for these employees, while other organizations have exit strategies.

The other part to consider when designing a succession process is the development phase. Once high potentials have been identified, it is important to work in partnership with their leader and the associate themselves about what gaps or skills need to be strengthened or learned to prepare this person for their next role in the company.

What approaches do you take with succession for your organization? Share comments or stories below.  

Need support in designing Succession for your organization? Our approach to custom succession planning and development removes the barriers for executive teams while gaining Board of Director approval to support effective transition and growth. We work with you to provide a map to move forward, identifying who could be promoted for higher roles, anticipating movement or turnover, and for high-potential development.  

Check out our case study on a successful succession project that helped a 100+ year old company move through significant change in their C-Suite.

Questions? Let’s connect. I would love to hear your success stories. Please send them to: or visit

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