Representor Spring 2024 - Cover Story


Ensuring success in your succession planning
Creating a structured succession plan to instill clarity and confidence in the future of your firm 

By Mark A. Noon
With contributions from Dianne Guthmuller and Robb Schiefer

Standing in line at the deli at Publix Supermarket this week reminded me of succession planning. You know how it is, as each of you has been in this kind of a position before. There was a succession plan in place. Each person grabbed a number to determine their position in line to place their order. This, of course, is very simple. Each person knows when they are up next.

But what happens if they run out of numbers? And you show up to place your order and you are not sure when or if you will be next? This is not so simple, and it can create conflict.

Many organizations like yours are in such a predicament. There may not be a plan to know who will succeed the CEO, the founder, the president or others through the chain of command. To whom will you pass on the legacy of the company? Maybe it’s a daughter or son, maybe it’s the next ranking person, maybe it’s someone outside the company. Whomever it is, they need to be ready and you need to get them ready. And, after you get them ready, you need to let them go.

Figure 1. 

Creating a structured succession planning process is essential if succession is to be done well. This process should include, at a minimum: defining key roles, identifying potential successors, assessing their readiness and creating development and communication plans to prepare successors for future roles.

Where do you start? Figure 1, called the E/3D model, can help you in your succession planning. This model has four steps: explore, define, design and deliver.


When in the context of exploring the need and effort for succession planning, you want to look at how other organizations are doing it, or have done it, or talk with consultants who have done such planning. What has been successful? What are your strengths and opportunities in it? What have you asked or talked about with your team, employees, shareholders and customers? For one of our clients, this was a huge concern. They had seen succession done so poorly, they feared to do it wrong themselves. Many times, the fear of failure has captivated us more than the joy of potential success. Consequently, they hesitated at many stages, and this set them back months. To begin, one of the most significant questions is: What is your timeline? In working with various organizations, over the past few years, we’ve discovered that the longer the timeline, the better. Two years or longer is ideal. This doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in a shorter timeframe; it just means you have to work harder — and probably a little faster.


Clarity is the first law of learning. So, the next key consideration is defining what is the purpose of the succession. The question of purpose may seem obvious, but we have found that those involved have differing perspectives and agendas. What is the vision or outcome of the plan? Will the vision of the company change with the successor? How will that new vision be communicated? Without a vision, the organization suffers.

Organizations should have a systematic approach to identifying key succession candidates, as well as the plan for implementation.

Identifying (defining) key succession candidates is a crucial step. This involves assessing current employees based on their performance, potential and alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, core values and strategic goals. Key succession candidates are individuals who have the skills, experience and motivation to take on leadership roles in the future; and motivation is not always easy. What roles have they been assigned to, what responsibilities have they experienced and how has this contributed to their development?

Once key succession candidates have been identified, and behavioral and motivational assessments completed, organizations need to invest in developing their talent for future roles. What goals need to be accomplished? This may involve training, coaching, stretch assignments and other development opportunities to help individuals build the skills and capabilities needed for leadership positions.

By investing in the development of key succession candidates, organizations can ensure a smooth transition when current leaders leave, while also building a strong leadership pipeline for the future. Know this too: Roles in the organization may be elevated, reduced, added or deleted. This might greatly influence the plan and preparations.


Designing the plan is not the most difficult part (that lies in the delivery), but it does take a lot of thought and preparation. It is intricate and can involve many players.

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans fail, but planning is essential.” This means we don’t always get it right in the first half of the game (or in this case, the attempt). A football team goes into halftime to make adjustments and comes out in the second half with a better plan to win.

What does the design look like, and how will you know it’s right? For most leaders, the idea of failing is the barrier that keeps them from the design phase. The change leadership needed here is a very important step. This is not change management; it’s change leadership.

Over and over we hear, and we read, that many leaders do not want to get it wrong and so they put off the plan, until they know it will be right. Assuredly, you won’t get it all right, but planning is essential. In addition, having help along the way can ensure your success.

The key steps in the design phase are leader development (LD), communication and modeling. How much leader development is necessary will depend largely upon the level of experience, the role of the successor, the adaptability of the organization and the timeline of the plan. If you are already heavily engaged in leader development, then once the plan is in place, the need is not as desperate or great.

Leader development should happen on a quarterly basis for all organizations for all leaders, regardless of the need for a succession plan. If you are actively in the successor process, and are on a two-year timeline, this process works well. If you are more rushed, then bimonthly may be necessary. However, consider the following questions: Who needs to be developed more than others? Who needs to have monthly coaching to get them ready? All leaders can participate in the LD process, but your key successors need some extra attention. What is the process you have for accountability to the LD process? How often are successors and leaders getting feedback on their progress? Monthly would be our recommendation.

The importance of having a robust communication plan within the organization’s strategy cannot be overstated. The more communication, the better. So, what does that look like? I’m glad you asked.

Monthly communications to the whole team are ideal, and can be accomplished via email, video messages, newsletters, town hall meetings and leader follow-up. The first three are easy, and mass produced. The town hall meeting is simply an executive leader-led forum to connect the updates and necessary information. But, the leader follow-up effort often can present a challenge.

Leader follow-up goes like this: The senior leaders, who are responsible for the original communications and the updates, are also responsible for connecting with the staff to ensure they know what was communicated. Literally, this is a “tell me what you know” kind of question to individual staff members to learn how well the plan has been conveyed and executed.

Lastly, the modeling of the change. What is meant by this is how well the team responds to the changes and responds to the new successor. You communicated the plan, now we model the new organizational structure.


Delivering results can be the most difficult part of the succession plan. This involves accountability, which is a word that has stronger meaning in some organizations than in others. Accountability is necessary because the delivery takes time, effort and tenacity to ensure the proper outcomes.

There must be regular updates between leaders, and then shared with the team. Adjustments will be made and must be demonstrated to the organization so there is no confusion between the original plan and the “new” plan. The lack of updates and necessary reasoning can cause distrust, among many other concerns.

Another often-difficult part of this plan, especially if you are the founder-legacy holder, is to let go. This is your baby. You raised it. You nurtured it. Now, you have to let it go. That is not easy. Leaving well assures the next generation of your confidence in their skills and leadership. Leaving well allows them to flourish. Our experiences have shown this to be one of the challenging things leaders struggle with. At least four of our recent clients have had extra coaching along this struggle.

Also consider, what is the risk if you don’t do succession planning? The risks are: loss of talent, skills and knowledge; lack of commitment in the successor; loss of time; and disruption to the organization, the employees and the customer.

Don’t delay. The sooner you get started, the more adept you will be in the plan.

Succession plans are never going to be the same for every organization, nor even every time the same organization executes the plan. Regularly evaluating and adjusting succession plans is important to ensure their effectiveness.

By continuously evaluating and adjusting succession plans, organizations can adapt to changing circumstances and ensure that they have a robust pipeline of talent ready to lead in the future.

Bringing on a team of experienced coaches can certainly give you the assurance you require, the confidence you desire, and the motivational fire to help you put “success” into your succession plan.

About the author

Mark A. Noon is an international speaker managed by the Executive Speakers Bureau and a principal and co-founder of LEADERSHIPTEN (L10), a leader and organizational development practice based in the Florida Panhandle. Along with principal co-founders Dianne Guthmuller and Robb Schiefer, their mission is to create leaders who boldly impact their organizations, communities and families. If you would like to have Mark as a speaker at an event, or connect with L10 about your organization and ways they can help in the succession plan, leader development or executive and leader coaching, please contact them at or 850-855-6898.