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Replacement Planning: a Quick Primer

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Use replacement planning to gain buy-in and add immediate value to early succession planning programs.

I bet you've experienced at least one of these scenarios:

➡️ You're brand new to your organization. HR leadership has hired you specifically to focus on the development of internal talent. Your passion for succession planning and leadership development won the interview team over and they are eager for you to jump right in with succession planning. Bam! But… you're finding that calendaring the succession planning discussion is delayed and somehow doesn't make it back on the calendar. Efforts to rally the troops around the plan fall flat.


➡️ You've seen a few talent mis-placements within your organization recently and you have the determination to finally make time to tackle succession planning. You attended a conference recently where a company outlined a solid plan, snapped their fingers, Bam! Succession plan done with talent pools for every business unit identified and a leadership development program at the front-line level building early potential. It's beautiful. But… somehow calendaring of your succession planning discussion is consistently re-scheduled out a month or two - every few months. Efforts to rally the troops around the plan fall flat.

Raise your hand: scenario 1? Anyone faced scenario 2? Both?

We Talent Development Folks are super-star overachievers. I see you out there. Your talent programs are so shiny and will provide tremendous value to your organization… once you get the buy-in and resources for implementation. Yeah, mine too. Here's the ticket - Let's start simply, but strategically.

A Succession Planners Dream

Succession planning is an awesome value-add to an organization. When I think of succession planning I dream of glossy prints showing plump succession boxes full of ready now and future talent. Each candidate has an intentional development plan with check marks for progress. Diversity represented: exceeding goals. Competency-based: oh yeah. Internal program to identify and develop potential: award winning. I mean, we can sell the program, y'all. Then, alas, my tea cup is empty and a reminder rings for the next meeting.

What if… instead of beginning with grand plans for a comprehensive succession planning program, we keep it simple, introduce the concept to the organization, gain buy-in and add immediate value?

Replacement Planning

Enter a simple replacement plan, focusing on the senior-most executives at your organization.

A replacement plan identifies one or two internal back-ups for a leadership role or key position. Think of it as a risk management plan in case a leader suddenly retires, departs, takes a sabbatical, falls ill, wins the lottery… you get the picture.

A replacement plan is not a full succession plan. It does not include the development of growth plans for succession candidates or cultivating robust talent pools. It is a great starting point for succession planning and is a valuable tool for business continuity.

William J. Rothwell in Effective Succession Planning encourages us to consider phased rollouts as we build-up to a state-of-the-art succession planning program:

"Organizations can go through a life cycle of development as they implement SP&M [Succession Planning & Management] programs. At each generation, they gain sophistication about what to do, how to do it, and why it is worth doing it." (p 68)

Benefits of Replacement Planning

Two benefits of beginning with a replacement plan stand out for those who are trying to get succession planning going within an organization.

  • Beginning with a replacement plan gains the buy-in of the senior executive team for longer-term succession planning efforts. They become advocates and set the tone for the program.

  • Replacement planning ensures business continuity and is an excellent risk mitigation tool to ensure a company has a quick plan of action and leaders identified to step in during times of crisis.

How to Develop a Replacement Plan

I advocate keeping it simple when implementing replacement planning. It can be as simple as discussions with each of the senior-most leaders with the aim of identifying one to three candidates who can step in as a replacement today. While you're taking notes, also capture any gaps that would need to be addressed for a candidate to be successful. For example, you might have a candidate who can fill in on an interim basis. Ask about why interim versus for a longer term. You might have another candidate who can stretch into the role now, but will need to shore up a certain skillset. Maybe a mentor is also provided to ensure success.

If you have a tool where you capture talent data, great, use it. If not, PowerPoint and Excel work just fine to capture and memorialize the data.

Another consideration is whether the replacement plan is shared with candidates. In this case, I prefer to keep a replacement plan confidential - shared only with the CEO and the Senior Talent / HR Leader. I know, normally, I can't shut up about the importance of a follow-up talent conversation with candidates. Because this is a business continuity plan, I advocate keeping it confidential. I would advocate; however, that the skill gaps identified during the exercise be addressed. Make it a great development opportunity to round out a candidate's skillset.

Revisit replacement plans annually, or at least every other year. Hopefully, you're using the replacement planning exercise next year to take another step towards a succession plan. Maybe in next year's discussion you also identify potential candidates that could be considered replacement candidates if a few competency gaps are addressed. Or add in a brainstorm on a pool of talent for succession and the development opportunities the pool needs to progress in readiness.

While replacement planning is a must-have talent tool for business continuity, use it as a platform to introduce and gain buy-in for the broader concept of succession planning.

You've got this. Post here what challenges you may face in introducing replacement planning and let's discuss. If you've been on this journey, share your wisdom! We'd like to learn.


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