By Steve Czerniak, Subject Matter Expert, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Every leader should continuously develop potential successors. Most leaders do nothing and then are horrified that no employee is really ready. That’s the best case in this bad situation. What if the situation got worse? What if there was the “unfortunate bus accident” or “sudden heart attack” and the leader was just no longer available?

Succession Development is part of a process that includes Employee Development, Succession Development, and Selection.  This process balances the needs of the employee and those of the organization.  All of them are time-dependent.

Employee Development provides employees an opportunity to grow their professional knowledge, skills, and abilities; advance in their specific area of concentration; and get noticed and considered for further advancement.  Employee Development is based on the Needs of the Employee.  There are three parties involved in Employee Development:  the employee leads and maintains responsibility for their career, the supervisor of that employee (empowers), and the organization (providing resources and opportunities).  If they are properly prepared, at the right time, with Training, Experiential Learning, Advanced Degrees and Certifications, and Mentoring and Coaching (TEAM), they make “the short list” and proceed into Succession Development. 

Succession Development is the organization expressing a specific need in the form of replacing a current leader at some future point in time.  The intent is to define the knowledge, skills, and abilities and reputation, intent, credentials, and experience needed for a candidate to best fill the position of the leader.  Employees would need to meet those attributes to the level of competency as pre-defined for the role.  Of course, most employees would not meet all of those attributes at the required levels of competency.  

Therefore, some level of development would be required.  Different kinds of development take different amounts of time.  One type might require taking a class and then demonstrating competence on a project.  That might take a few months.  Another might require getting an advanced degree. That would take a couple of years.

Clearly, succession development is a proactive process.  It must be worked significantly before the need arises.  

Employees need to understand that development is not just a checklist of requirements to be met.  How the employee completes a development requirement means something as well.  There are also intangibles that must be met. 

Selection is an event.  At the time of selection, the available status of the candidates and the organization come together and a decision is made.  If a candidate had been being developed as part of the succession planning process but had not yet completed their development requirements but another employee had, that should be strongly considered as part of the selection process.

The selection process for a leader should include input from stakeholders other than the supervisor.  A typical selection team would include the immediate supervisor (the leader reports to), peers (same level), customers (who receive the work product of the leader), and representatives of those who report to the leader.

About the Author

Steve Czerniak retired after a successful 37-year career as a leader and innovator. The last 15 years were a series of opportunities that honed his skills as an internal consultant and “change agent.” In retirement, he is a volunteer consultant and a SCORE Subject Matter Expert for the Southeast Michigan chapter. His personal volunteer objective is to “derive personal satisfaction from helping others, and the organizations they operate, to develop and prosper.” Visit his site:


The Time to Develop Your Successor is Now