Succession Planning-Part 1

Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing, through mentoring training, education and development, appropriate candidates to replace, as required, key employees within an organization.


Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing, through mentoring training, education and development, appropriate candidates to replace, as required, key employees within an organization.

Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing, through mentoring training, education and development, appropriate candidates to replace, as required, key employees within an organization. One may think that succession planning involves only the top person in an organization, such as the CEO, president, or fire chief. While this is the most common concept of succession planning, the need to replace key employees occurs at all levels and can be predictable or unexpected. What we frequently see as promotions, such as with company officers or mid-level supervisors, is similar to the replacement of the fire chief: a key person at that level has left and must be replaced with an appropriate and qualified successor. It makes sense for a supervisor to prepare employees for advancement so that a qualified person is ready to step in when the supervisor leaves for whatever reason. It is the implicit duty of every officer to prepare subordinates to take his or her place.

According to the Older Workers Survey, just 29 percent of human resource professionals surveyed in 2003 in the business world have some form of succession planning in place, while almost 33 percent said their organizations have made no effort to prepare for the retirement of older workers or the effect that these departures will have on their organization. A separate survey by the human resources consulting firm DMB found that 94 percent of human resource professionals polled said their organization had not adequately prepared younger workers for advancement to senior leadership roles.

Unfortunately, succession planning is not practiced in many fire service organizations. A quick search of the on-line card catalog at the National Fire Academy's Learning Resource Center reveals abstracts of many Executive Fire Officer applied research papers identifying the lack of a succession plan when key personnel needed to be replaced.

Succession planning is something that every fire service organization should do because turnover continues to occur at every level in every organization. Many fine books and journal articles are available to serve as detailed resources for developing a succession plan. Having a formal plan is the best approach because every department has different needs. Departments must develop a plan tailored to the unique needs and culture of the department. It is necessary to have a human resources professional familiar with the succession planning process serve as facilitator to assist the department in developing a formal plan. Finally, succession planning is not a one-time exercise but a continuing process that changes as the organization matures.

Getting Started

A leader can do many things immediately to help lay the foundation for succession planning. First, the chief needs to lead the department to create an organizational culture that values education and personal development at all levels. The key leaders of the department must define and publicize clear criteria for advancement. Identifying and communicating to the work force the abilities and qualities needed to move up may also boost employee boost retention. Research has shown that employees tend to remain with an organization where they experience personal and professional growth. Organizational performance improves as employees develop the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to advance.

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