With the tragic passing of Steve Jobs today, one can’t help but wonder what’s next for Apple. Will Apple maintain its cutting edge culture of innovation? Who will be the visionary? Can the company not only survive, but thrive, without its beloved leader? In announcing Steve’s passing Apple said “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

While none of us like to believe it – our companies can and will go on without us. But how quickly and easily they recover from someone’s departure is directly related to the level of deliberate and intentional succession planning conducted long before an opening occurs.

Succession planning is a systematic approach to:

  • Building a leadership pipeline/talent pool to ensure leadership continuity
  • Developing potential successors in ways that best leverage their strengths
  • Identifying the best candidates for critical positions
  • Concentrating resources on the talent development process yielding a greater return on investment

Succession planning recognizes that some jobs are the lifeblood of the organization and too critical to be left vacant or filled by any but the best qualified candidates. Effectively done, succession planning is critical to organizational success and creates an effective process for recognizing, developing, and retaining top leadership talent.

Organizations that excel in succession planning initiatives have certain success factors in common, including:

  • Senior leaders who are personally involved
  • Senior leaders who hold themselves and their teams accountable for growing leaders
  • Employees who take personal responsibility for their own self-development
  • Success is based on a business case for long-term needs
  • Succession is linked to strategic planning and investment in the future
  • Workforce analytics drive the process
  • Leadership competencies are identified and used for selection and development
  • A pool of talent is identified and developed early for long-term needs
  • Development is based on challenging and varied job-based experiences
  • Human resources is recognized as a strategic partner with other senior leaders
  • Succession planning addresses challenges such as diversity, recruitment, and retention

Even with robust succession planning processes in place, no one can predict with any level of certainty the level of success to be expected. For example, when Jack Welch retired from GE, he not only participated in the succession planning process – he hand-picked Jeffrey Immelt as his successor; but GE just isn’t the same.