Looking Into The Kaleidoscope: Making Succession Planning Successful

Looking Into The Kaleidoscope: Making Succession Planning Successful

When a successor steps into a kaleidoscopic succession planning experience, they feel closer to their boundaryless potential.


“Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope: a slight change and all patterns alter.”  — Sharon Salzberg                                                                                      

The above quote holds profound meaning. Every time we turn a kaleidoscope, it shows a different set of patterns with different colours, and so does our life. Our behaviours and actions shape events we might not have anticipated.


While I was collecting my thoughts on putting together a “successful framework for succession planning” at our organisation, my daughter walked in with her kaleidoscope, and that’s when I realised what a succession planning experience should look like. Succession planning is an art – it involves the interweaving of various experiences, wisdom, expertise, and perceptions of both the incumbent and the successor. Our role as an organisation is to garner the best from this intersection and channelise it towards a successful outcome.


The pandemic has thrown an unprecedented spotlight on succession planning, with many organisations awakening to the sudden disruptions in their normal ways of functioning. In a race to brace themselves in this situation, many organisations have begun to view succession planning as a goalpost to be reached or as a means to an end. After drawing out an elaborate succession plan, most organisations tend to keep it aside and consider their job done once the successor is identified, wishing that the transition will materialise smoothly when the time comes. However, such a fragmented approach ignores the holistic impact of succession.


In reality, succession planning is a continuously evolving journey. It needs to be regularly reviewed for it to re-align with changing organisation dynamics and individual aspirations, with a future perspective ingrained in the process. It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope in which a slight turn produces a different pattern. A succession planning process cannot be designed for a perfect fit for the transition. As I called out earlier, it is an art that must consider both subjective elements of human behaviour and perception and the objective approach of providing a structured framework to align with the organisational needs.


Looking into the Kaleidoscope


There are many reasons to develop a robust succession plan: talent risk mitigation, planning for critical vacancies, creating space and growth opportunities for key talent, and so forth. Given its manifold benefits, organisations must start looking at the succession planning process closely.


For organisations that are starting, planning for succession is understandably daunting, considering the anxiety, concerns, and disruptions it might cause across various levels of employees. However, certain key elements to succession planning can help make this process easier and set it up for success. They are outlined below:


1. Identification of roles for succession planning


2. Creation of success profiles


3. Identification of successors


4. Assessing for talent readiness and fitment


5. Designing the development journey


6. Managing the final transition



Identification of Roles for Succession Planning


While C-suite is a priority, it is also essential to think beyond it to ensure a steady talent pipeline at all levels. You need to identify the roles for which you would want to invest in succession planning, for instance, (N-1) roles that are next in line to the C-suite, critical roles for the organisation, or niche roles with a high risk of talent attrition or retirement. It is beneficial to have a set of criteria to identify these roles, which could then be revisited regularly.


Creation of Success Profiles


After you’ve identified the roles for which you need to find successors, the next step is to define success behaviours for these roles. To effectively evaluate successors, it is important to articulate key competencies, experience, and exposure required to succeed in a role. While creating a success profile, there is a natural tendency to get caught in a web of perception bias and design it for the role holder rather than the role. This is a good opportunity to review the success profile with multiple stakeholders and create space to bring in a fresh approach, and reconfigure the profile from a future perspective.


Identification of Successors


This is an essential step in the process, which can get quite complex at higher levels and needs careful consideration. While you evaluate homegrown talent, it is also imperative to carry out an external benchmarking exercise for an effective trade-off evaluation for a Build or Buy decision, allowing for an unbiased review of internal talent. Due consideration must also be given to the decision triggers on timelines, for instance, role holders due for retirement soon.


Assessing for Talent Readiness and Fitment


At this stage, the identified pool of successors is put through a series of assessments – 360-degree, role fitment, psychometric, etc. – based on the success profiles for the role. To establish shared accountability and ensure an objective evaluation of successors, it’s a good practice to form a governing body or council involving senior business leaders from across the organisation. This council could become the main decision-making authority for critical points along the journey.


Designing the Development Journey


This is the most crucial part of the entire journey, often not given the attention it deserves. It is vital to have a clear and agile development and transition plan to groom the successors and a set-up mechanism to review it in regular periods to ensure alignment with the strategic priorities of the business.


Post-talent readiness assessment, the 4E framework (Education, Experience, Exposure and Ecosystem) provides an easy reference to create a holistic transition impact and deep dive on the focus areas for potential successors to align expectations and customise their development journey.


• Education: Based on the focus areas, identify the knowledge capabilities to be built and possible coaching interventions required. An external coach or a seasoned business leader can be brought in to mentor the participant throughout the journey.


Experience: Decide on the necessary experience required for the role. Before the actual transition, it would be a good idea to create an incubator role for the successor postdiscussion with the current incumbent. A portion of the responsibilities can be co-held or transferred to the successor to help them understand the actual potential for performance in the role. Herb Henkel’s framework (2*2*2*5), which states that a leader should experience at least two businesses, two geographies, two functions and five stages of a business cycle, can also be a good reference point for framing the right experience for senior leaders.  


• Exposure: Providing the right exposure, bringing in an outside-in perspective, giving access to forum memberships and re-aligning accountabilities and responsibilities to create space to learn in the new role are also crucial in enabling the participant.


• Ecosystem: For a successful transition, it is imperative to create support systems by redefining norms or compensation structures that help garner stakeholder and management support.


Managing the Final Transition


The final part of the succession planning journey, the transition itself, is a delicate experience to manage. On the one hand, the current incumbent goes through mixed emotions of letting go and creating space for the successor; on the other hand, the successor tries to step into the new role carrying a weight of expectations and legacy left behind by the previous role holder. It is also the time for the final evaluation of the successor to decide whether they are indeed the right fit for the role. Hence, the transition plan should feature an appropriate time for the incumbent-successor orientation and panel evaluation of the successor before they move into the new role, paving the way for the creation of a new success profile. Thus, the journey continues.




Though it may seem formidable at first, it is important to institutionalise succession planning to build a healthy organisation and ensure a strong talent pipeline. Featuring the factors mentioned above would help ease the process to a large extent. While the pandemic has evoked a strong response to succession planning in many organisations, I hope they cash in on this momentum and design the journey with an eye to the future. When a successor steps into a kaleidoscopic succession planning experience, they feel closer to their boundaryless potential.



Nikita Panchal is a global leader with over 18 years of experience in organisation development, talent management, diversity & inclusion, and creating future-ready organisations. She has worked for TATA Asset Management and Motilal Oswal Securities and is currently associated with ACG Worldwide as Global Head – OD, Talent Management & Development, D&I.


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