Beyond Replacement Planning - Towards Succession Planning
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Beyond Replacement Planning - Towards Succession Planning

by Ashok Grover

Ever wondered what is the difference between Succession Planning and Replacement Planning? Or is there a difference between the two at all? This article explains point by point how do they differ and what is their importance in the corporate world.


John was quite active even at the age of 66 years. As a business head in a large conglomerate, he had three unit heads reporting to him. When Guru, the management consultant asked him what were the company's plans for his succession, John took no time explaining to him that out of the three unit heads, one was very new to the organization, another was purely an operations guy and yes, the third one could perhaps take his place. Guru was less than satisfied at this response.

John was surprised when Guru remarked, "You certainly have a plan; but it appears to nothing more than replacement planning. Where is the succession plan?"

Nothing surprising! This is what happens most of the time. John expected Guru to further clarify the difference between Succession Planning and Replacement Planning... and this is what came from Guru:

When you identify back-ups for top level positions assuming that the organization structure will remain the same over a period of time, you are resorting to Replacement planning. Succession Planning goes much deeper and aims at developing people not merely against a specific position; but as a pool of resources.

Some key differentiation between these two approaches can be summarized thus:

While replacement planning looks only at senior level positions, succession planning aims at key positions at various levels. The positions which are important and difficult to replace will top the list.

Two or three successors are considered for a particular position in replacement planning. However, in succession planning, the focus is on developing pools of talent.

Identification of talent in replacement planning is based on the feedback of senior management. Succession planning adopts a systematic process involving multiple tools and multiple data sources for identification.

Replacement planning is a form of risk management with focus on immediate and short term replacements; but succession planning looks for development of the people with long term point of view.

While replacement planning is done in isolation, succession planning is an integrated process involving learning and development, job rotation, job enrichment etc.

Simply speaking, while replacement planning is reactive in approach, succession planning is proactive. Replacement planning has no role for the development of staff. Here, the planning aims at merely looking for the substitutes for people without systematically "preparing" them to take over a position. As a result, while succession planning motivates people, replacement planning will normally demoralize them. In fact, identification of talent though an essential item, is still the easy part. What matters more is providing necessary skills and knowledge to the people to fill higher positions. These people may not be tied to a particular position; but it is communicated to them that they are in an acceleration pool and are actually moved around in different areas within the organization to widen their horizon so necessary to move up and shoulder higher responsibilities. Realizing this part itself, they remain a highly motivated and committed force.

For a serious succession planning initiative, the senior management must take up the ownership, while HR supports the process. Only then can an organization derive true benefits of this serious process.

John nodded his head in agreement as he was now clear what the real succession planning is as compared to traditional replacement planning. What about you?

Ashok Grover is an expert in people assessment and focused executive / leadership coaching. He is Director at Skillscape, a company with a vision of Value Creation by enhancing people and organizational competencies.

His last assignment was with the JBM Group as Corporate Chief Human Resource Officer. He has over four decades of experience in operations, materials, information technology and people development with Parle Group, Mohan Meakins Group, Hawkins Cookers Limited and JBM Group.

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