Who Is Your Successor?

How many people do you know that have left a job or stepped down from a volunteer leadership position, regardless of the reason? Have you ever been that person? I have. Let’s talk about it. 

Every day, organizations find themselves with a newly empty desk chair. Responsibilities unassigned. Balls dropped. Projects unfinished. On average, that chair sits empty for 40-60 days, depending on which report you read. Think about your own organization. Do you know your “time to fill”? With the talent market like it is right now, your time to fill may be even longer. Think about all that lost productivity a.k.a. lost revenue + cost of recruitment + myriad of other expenses we know fall into the total cost of hiring one person. Whew! 

We can be proactive and cut the time to fill significantly. We need to talk about succession planning (even if you don’t want to). Sharlyn Lauby talks about this on the ADP Spark blog in her article “5 Reasons You Should Have a Succession Plan (Even If You Don’t Want To)”. Another iteration of something I hear myself saying at least once a week, Lauby states, “It’s absolutely essential for organizations to think about the “what ifs” associated with an employee not being able or available to do their job.” We have to be prepared if we want to maintain long-term success. 

I recently left a job that I loved for the job that I was made for. It wasn’t easy, but it was right for me. As the first domino fell, so did the next one, and the next one. I had to tell two volunteer-led organizations that are dear to me that I could not finish out my term on the board of directors. I was, of course, willing to help train my successor…who I realized did not exist. Not for my job, nor for my volunteer roles. It was a shock to these systems for me to leave suddenly. But it didn’t have to be. 

Sharlyn Lauby said something else I hear myself saying constantly: “Succession planning isn’t as hard as it sounds”. It’s as simple as paying attention to the talent already within your organization. Forbes contributor, Stuart Levine, describes strategic talent management and successful succession planning as a system where “People are identified for their potential to guide the organization in the future as much as for their current strengths”. The wisest talent managers think in the future and live in the present. When executed well, succession plans can be the lifeblood of an organization. 

Remember that job I loved and left? I was teaching at a university, focusing on professional and career development of business students. We frequently invited industry partners to visit classrooms and speak to students about their successes and their challenges, sometimes in a recruiting capacity, sometimes purely educational. Sherwin-Williams was one of my favorite companies I invited to participate – let me acknowledge my bias as their former HR intern – because I think they do many, many things extraordinarily well, including talent management and succession planning. Did you know upwards of 85% of their hires are internal? Did you know some of their current top leaders started with the company as management trainees decades ago? Here’s what that looks like. Sherwin-Williams is a shining example of an organization that thinks in the future and lives in the present. They have extensive training and development that is specifically designed to capitalize on the existing strengths of potential leaders in preparation for their inevitable opportunity for internal promotion. They pay attention to every single potential leader and how he or she can be strategically developed to lead in a way that is best for him or her individually and best for the company. It’s really an incredible system. 

So how do you get started? SHRM has excellent resources to help any organization create succession plans. Here are two reads I recommend:


If you have more time and are ready for a deep dive, check out Developing Leadership Talent, part of the SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series. 

Succession planning is important. I have experienced the stress of having no plan in place when someone left, and I have been the cause of that stress for others. The proof is in the successful organization pudding: pay attention to and develop your talent now. Who is your successor? Don’t wait until you’re leaving to figure it out. 


Have questions about how to incorporate strategic talent management and succession planning in your organization? Horizon Point can help. Call us at 256-227-9075 or email us at info@horizonpointconsulting.com.

Jillian Miles Massey

Leave Comment :