The Top Five Best Practices for C-Level Succession Planning

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C-Level Succession Planning v2
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Succession planning is identifying and training talented executives for increased future responsibilities. The procedure represents an investment in the growth of leadership and a pledge to the organization’s future.

Every organization must prepare for Leadership changes. However, without the proper strategy for C-level succession planning in place, leadership changes can leave businesses vulnerable, causing anything from stock prices going on wild rides to staff becoming nervous about the constant changes.

It’s crucial to have a well-thought-out succession plan in place for this reason. However, a smooth change in leadership does not occur overnight. Planning well ahead of time is crucial for effective C-Level succession planning. The following are the top 5 best practices in succession planning for internal executives that can help you stay ahead of the curve.

1. Write the Job Description for the C-Level Role

1. Write the Job Description for the C-Level Role

Create the job you most want the successor to fill. Writing a new job description for the upcoming vacant Role is terrific for many reasons. Depending on the organizational structure, leaders may be responsible for overseeing a particular group, division, or project. The effectiveness and success of their team may be significantly impacted by how they carry out their job.

Define the position’s responsibilities in your organization when performing succession planning for the open leadership role. Setting expectations and defining requirements will ensure leaders meet expectations.

A. Set Expectations

While the majority of top-level executives have the knowledge and expertise necessary to do their jobs well, it is crucial that they also achieve the key goals that ensure business success.

Senior executives should be able to define high performance for the organization and ensure a clear connection between their objectives and the company’s overall objectives. It will only happen if expectations are clarified. 

Choose an acceptable number of performance goals for the upcoming year within this framework – five or six is ideal. If there are too many, leaders can lose sight of their objectives.

Ensure that expectations align with the company’s future requirements. These performance requirements will depend on the executive’s job description. Still, they are likely to cover leadership and management skills, people management, strategic planning, the capacity to uphold values and expectations, attitudes, corporate culture, financial performance, and collaboration with other executives.

B. Define Requirements

Selecting successors with A-Player potential is a best practice for C-level succession planning. Leaders’ potential links to their specific responsibilities and professional goals.

Decide on the necessary competencies and skills for each leadership role. You can then create individualized learning plans with assistance from people currently occupying the leadership role, assess the current skill sets of successors, and adequately train them to fill the Role when the time comes.

2. Stakeholders Management

Stakeholder Management

Instead of HR driving the planning process, the business leaders should facilitate C-level succession planning, with HR’s responsibility to enable it and offer the necessary tools along the way. It’s crucial to involve stakeholders, especially senior leadership, in the process. Typically, the stakeholder involved in C-level succession planning will include the CEO, other C-level leadership, and the board of directors. If the founder is still around, they should also become a stakeholder. In best-case scenarios, the team directly reporting to the leadership position and customers may also be considered stakeholders.

A. Interview All Stakeholders for Their Perceptions

Succession planning involves various stakeholders, all of whom have a role in the process at the right time. Interviews should be conducted with all stakeholders to know their expectations and goals of future leaders.

Proper succession planning ensures stakeholders choose the next leader with shared understanding and alignment. The decision-making body carefully considers the requirements for the organization’s next leader, which are generally different from those for the current one.

B. Ask For Stakeholder Input on the Position

Invite stakeholders to participate in surveys, get feedback, and convene focus groups. Involving important stakeholders will not only help you gain support for each phase of the process, but you’ll also get some suggestions on improving the processes and roles and making things better for everyone.

3. Finalized Consensus

Finalized Consensus

The CEO and other key stakeholders must support the succession planning process to be effective. CEOs involved in the succession process start by openly discussing their desired retirement or leaving date with the board chairman. The leadership effectiveness of the successor will catapult with a supportive CEO and a willingness to be agile with the CEO’s unique style and requirements. 

Stakeholders assist the board in providing a comprehensive overview of the successor’s responsibilities. They promote further education, establish working scenarios that put applicants in actual settings, and continuously assess candidates’ capacity for growth. They collaborate with Human Resources teams to find candidates for senior management positions and assist those prospects in acquiring leadership skills.

Stakeholders guarantee continuity, present an opportunity to draw on internal resources with the necessary expertise, and ensure everyone is on the same page regarding succession planning for the CEO’s position or a particular leadership role.

4. Internal and External Communication of new C-level Role

Internal and External Communication of new C-level Role

Hold the succession planning process in the “open” instead of behind closed doors because openness fosters trust. Therefore, internal and external communication of the new C-level Role is critical.

Include everyone in the process and promote transparency in one-on-one interactions with your staff. Inform employees of where they are, discuss attainable team goals, offer opportunities for career paths, and, most importantly, recognize and celebrate accomplishments and promotions.

The new C-level Role is not a label you’re giving somebody; instead, it’s a chance to have a conversation that will motivate high potential employees. This conversation allows more space to grow to work more diligently to accomplish their objectives and transition into a c-level role.

5. Stakeholder Feedback for new C-level Role

Stakeholder Feedback for new C-level Role

Engage the board and other stakeholders in every step of the C-level succession planning process as active stewards. Evaluate possible talent, reduce risk, hold the CEO responsible for succession planning, and organize vital successors’ training.

Get feedback from the stakeholders for the C-level Role. The process of obtaining this feedback from stakeholders can be made easy by doing the following.

A. Developing the Report

Obtain accurate information through a combination of evaluation techniques and methodologies. These include past performance evaluations, 360-degree behavioral assessments, and a questionnaire-based, quantitative 360-degree test that focuses on success elements crucial to management and leadership positions.

Provide each participant with their report data and participate in one-on-one discussions with the appraisers. Use the report as a discussion point when creating goals with the new successors’ boss. 

B. Competencies and Expectations

Even the most advanced succession management approach may fail without established standards for success in the intended positions. Essential obligations and activities, performance indicators, competencies, and critical experience sets should be the four cornerstones of a role’s criteria.

C. Goal Setting With New Boss

After a new person takes up the C-level Role, there will initially be a great deal of expectation-related anxiety. It will not just be the employees who will be apprehensive about the new leader, but even the most seasoned bosses will also be nervous. The new leader would probably want to be liked by their staff, but they would also know that they stay devoted to the board that hired them.

One way to overcome this problem is defining goals and deciding what constitutes success in the workplace; it is an excellent strategy for the new boss and employees to start on the right foot while keeping the board/key stakeholders happy.

D. New Reporting Structure Implemented and Accepted

A company’s organizational (org) structure, also known as its reporting structure, enables workers to collaborate effectively to carry out the business’s overall objective. When an employee encounters a problem, the reporting structure clarifies to whom they should turn for assistance.

A robust reporting framework establishes checks and balances to ensure the company is compliant and operating. The reporting structure must be crystal clear regardless of the new boss’s chosen structure. It is critical to gain a shared understanding from everyone to implement the new reporting structure and get everyone to accept it.

The executive can formally assign duties and develop a reporting structure with an organizational chart, ensuring that each Role knows its function within the company. This clarity makes it simpler for staff members to understand where they fit in and helps prevent confusion while the company adjusts to new leadership.

Final Word

Succession planning for internal executives is a time-consuming process. But when done correctly, it may greatly ease an otherwise stressful and unsuccessful changeover.


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Louis Carter
Louis Carter is CEO and founder of Best Practice Institute, social/organizational psychologist, executive coach and author of more than 11 books on leadership and management including his newest book just released by McGraw Hill: In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace. He has lectured globally in the U.S., Middle East, and Asia on his work and research in organization and leadership development and is an executive coach and advisor to CEOs and C-levels of mid-sized to Fortune 500 organizations. He was named one of Global Gurus Top Organizational Culture Gurus in the world and was chosen to be one of 100 coaches to be in the MG100 (Marshall Goldsmith) out of 14,000 people as one of the top 100 coaches in the world .

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