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Human Resources

Succession Planning

Succession Planning is an integral part of the strategic planning process and ties to the institution’s long-term goals and objectives. Effective Succession Planning strategies mitigate risk associated with turnover and cultivate existing talent, matching promising employees’ aspirations to the future needs of the institution.

Succession Planning ties to a wide-range of human resource management functions, including the process of Recruiting employees, and developing their skills and abilities through Performance Management, Training Programs and Mentoring Programs. These programs help employees excel in current positions and prepare them for advancement, increase retention and ensure a return on the institution’s investment.

Human Resources staff is available to assist your department with the Succession Planning process. Please contact your Human Resource Partner who will coordinate the process with your department and with HR staff. Below is an outline of the process.


This program is intended to support and provide a framework for the administration’s Succession Planning efforts in the following broad areas:

  • Determine pivotal positions and identify and prepare immediate back up to deal with short-term vacancies in those positions
  • Develop viable internal candidates to fill vacancies
  • Project future changes in the organizational staffing needs and changing competency requirements based on institutional goals and workforce trends and predictions
  • Develop promising leaders through comprehensive training, mentoring and performance management programs, and facilitate individual career development plans


Key leadership positions

  • While upper administrative level vacancies are often filled through national searches, it is essential to identify and prepare internal leaders for immediate backup of these key positions to minimize disruption to the institution.
  • Periodic reviews should be conducted to identify multiple backups for each key leadership position, and ensure those individuals are prepared.

Mid-level management and supervisory positions

  • While candidates must compete through the search and selection process, stronger pools may result when internal candidates for management level positions are developed through mentoring, training, experiential opportunities and performance feedback
  • Continuing to challenge and reward talented employees eliminates their need to seek opportunities elsewhere, resulting in retention of valuable employees with high leadership potential.
  • Promotion of an internal candidate preserves institutional knowledge and can minimize disruption to departmental operations.

Other key job categories

  • Expansion areas, requiring additional skilled staff are identified
  • New competencies to accomplish or modify functions are determined
  • Obsolete or declining functions are identified
  • Expected staffing needs are compared to projected internal supply of candidate and expected workforce trends
  • Inadequate supply of candidates with needed skill sets are identified and training and recruitment plans are adjusted to compensate

Process Overview

  • Review/update current organizational chart
  • Conduct an analysis of unmet current and near-term needs
  • Identify pivotal positions and/or incumbents
  • Assess risk of turnover in pivotal positions
  • Assess opportunities within current staffing
  • Integrate action plan with individual Performance Development Plans (PDPs)

Process Guide

The following guide provides a framework to the Succession Planning process. The level of analysis necessary at each step will differ between departments. Forms are available as a tool, and may be customized to suit individual needs. Human Resources is available to assist you and your management team in this process.

1. Review/Update Current Organizational Chart

Having a current organizational chart is the foundation to begin succession planning. If necessary, you will need to update the organizational chart for your area.

2. Conduct Needs Analysis

In conducting a needs analysis, compare the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of your staff with both current needs and projected needs over the next two to three years in alignment with your strategic plan and goals. In assessing needs, think broadly about KSAs, to include areas such as institutional knowledge, technical skills, and leadership ability.

Using your organizational chart and focusing on the incumbents in those positions, identify both current and future unmet needs. An optional unmet needs analysis form is provided, where you can identify current staffing shortfalls, as well as any projects you may be unable to move forward due to limitations of current staff time or skills.

Needs Analysis Form PDF

3. Identify Pivotal Positions and/or Incumbents

Pivotal positions are those that you consider critical to your area - either strategically, operationally or both. You may choose to designate a position as pivotal because of the importance of the duties and responsibilities or because of the incumbent’s specialized KSAs.There may be multiple positions with the same title, where you designate some, but not all of the positions as pivotal, based on the particular incumbent’s qualities. Choosing not to designate a position as pivotal does not mean that you could eliminate that position. It simply means that turnover in the position would not be overly disruptive to your area.

As a tool, you may want to mark directly on a copy of your organizational chart, those positions and/or incumbents that you consider pivotal.

4. Assess and Mitigate Risk of Turnover in Pivotal Positions

You may use the form provided as a tool to focus on each of the positions you designated as pivotal, assessing the risk and developing mitigation strategies, should the position become vacant. You will want to consider a number of factors, including:

  • What is the operational affect of a vacancy in this position?
  • What effect on leadership would a vacancy in this position create?
  • Who is available as immediate, short-term back up for this position?
  • Are there qualified internal candidates to fill the position on a permanent basis?
  • Are there individuals with potential to become a qualified candidate with additional development or training?
  • Based on workforce trends, what is the supply of qualified external candidates?
  • How long would it take a replacement to become fully functional?
  • How likely is the current incumbent to leave the position?

While anyone could leave unexpectedly, you can estimate likelihood, based on factors such as retirement eligibility or the incumbent’s desire for transfer or promotional opportunities. Human Resources can provide information on retirement eligibility.

Individuals identified as immediate back up or as potential candidates who do not currently possess the necessary KSAs to be successful in the position will need development plans.

Planning for Vacancy of Pivotal Position Form PDF

5. Assess Opportunities Within Current Staffing

Beyond planning for vacancies in pivotal positions, you will want to assess and develop strategies for any unmet current or near-term needs that you have identified. If adding positions to meet these needs is not an option, you may want to assess opportunities to reorganize or retrain and reassign individuals. Consider declining or less essential functions and incumbents with high potential who are not challenged in their current position. Facilitating career development eliminates the need for talented employees to seek opportunities elsewhere. Retention and internal promotion preserves institutional knowledge and minimizes disruption to operations.

Job design strategies may include job enrichment, enlargement, or rotation. Job enrichment increases the depth of a job by adding responsibility in the areas of planning, organizing, controlling and evaluation of the work within the functional unit. Job enlargement broadens the scope of a job and may include expanding the number of units for which the position is responsible and thereby adding increased challenges and opportunities for the incumbent. Job rotation moves a person to a different job (typically for a finite period of time) for the purpose of ensuring the cross training in multiple units of the department thereby preparing the person as backup for future job or advancement opportunities.

6. Integrate With Individual Performance Development Plans

In addition to clarifying expectations of the current position, individual Performance Development Plans (PDPs) provide the framework to set goals to enhance the individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities, making them better able to provide backup for other positions, and become qualified candidates for promotional opportunities. The goals on PDPs for individuals in your area should align with and support your succession plan.

It is essential for individual managers and supervisors to be involved in the integration of the succession plan and the individual PDPs for their staff. Managers and supervisors may need training to enhance their skills (coaching and mentoring, and performance feedback) to facilitate development of their staff.

The PDP should reflect the specific knowledge, skills and abilities to be acquired or enhanced, which may include managerial, technical and/or department specific skills. Plans should also include specific timelines and methods for acquiring the stated knowledge, skills and abilities. Methods may include job shadowing, participation in the mentoring program, and attending training courses through CWU or outside sources such as professional organization. Courses may be added to the Training Program to address unmet needs using subject matter experts.

Human Resource staff is available to assist with PDP development and with the process of Succession Planning.