Putting The Success in Succession Planning

Jim Bitterle

Never has there been a more important time to have solid succession plans in place. Today we stand on the edge of a major generational shift within our workplaces. Baby Boomers have already begun their collective transition into retirement, and once it hits its stride, companies that don’t have a plan in place will struggle. On this episode of ProjectHR, our guest will be Jim Bitterle, Managing Partner at EDSI, and he'll be telling us all about:

  • Why Succession Planning is important;
  • Who is typically responsible for the setting a plan in place;
  • How it can help you "Hire for the Future"; and
  • He'll walk us through the Succession Planning process, step-by-step!

Jim Bitterle

Human Resources Consulting

“There might even be a position that I don’t even have today that I need to be preparing somebody for, or at least recruiting for, so that I can achieve my goals as a company.” 

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Defining Terms

  • Succession Planning is really just a process of business continuity. It ensures you have the right people in the right place, with the right knowledge, skills and abilities to ensure that as people retire or leave your organization, that the organization is able to carry forward and achieve its goals.


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Why Succession Planning is Important

  • There is a very high failure rate for companies transitioning ownership from one generation to the next: 
  • 60% of companies fail within a few short years after their first generational shift (from 1st gen → 2nd)
  • Almost 90% of companies fail after their second generational shift (from 2nd gen → 3rd)
  • This failure is the result of not picking the right leaders and not having them prepared to take over the new role. 
  • Failing to choose successors for key positions within the organization (working outside of the C-Suite) can also have a very significant effect on your ability to provide service, the quality or the products that you need for your customers because you can lose critical knowledge, critical abilities and critical skills.

Who Bears Responsibility for Succession Planning?

  • Typically it falls upon HR - usually they are the group driving and facilitating the process.
  • But you HAVE to have C-Level support! You have to have the commitment from the owner, from the C-Level Suite, you have to have the budget and the resources to get it done right.
  • Without the support of the C-Level suite, it’s a difficult process to get through.   

Misconceptions About Succession Planning

  • That it’s not a priority: There are always bigger fires to fight, but this is a fire that shouldn’t be ignored.
  • That it’s just for the top level: There are so many critical roles within an organization, and it’s important to identify what those critical roles and people are, and plan successors for those positions.
  • That they don’t need a formal plan: Companies may have a loose collection of successors in mind, but they might not necessarily formalize those plans, or take the time to prepare those successors in advance of transition.

“Hire For The Future”

  • Too often, we look at “where are we today?” when we should be looking at “where will we be in five years?”.  
  • Too often, succession planning only covers current needs and skills. 
  • When looking ahead, if your organization’s strategic plan includes growth and/or diversification, you’ll probably need different skills, different numbers of people with different skillsets to support that desired future.  
  • “There might even be a position that I don’t even have today that I need to be preparing somebody for, or at least recruiting for, so that I can achieve my goals as a company.” 

Succession Planning Process

  • Assign a Champion - Who’s going to own it? Who’s going to lead the process?  
  • Get Leadership Buy-In - This process is going to take time, money and resources. 
  • Document Your Current Culture and Structure (“The Current State”) - What’s your current structure? What are the positions, who reports to who, who’s in each of those positions?
  • Create Your Future Culture and Structure (“The Future State”) -  What’s it going to look like in five years to support your strategic plan?
  • Document and Update All Job Descriptions -  It’s critical, especially for those key positions, that the job descriptions are accurate, so that you can properly prepare succession candidates.
  • Identify Critical Positions That Require Successors - Not all positions require a successor, so look for those roles that are vital to the company’s success and can’t be filled easily or quickly.
  • Identify Success Profiles For All Critical Positions - What responsibilities do these positions have? What tasks do they achieve? What capabilities do they have? What behaviors do they have? What credentials do they have? Are they a cultural fit? This may involve interviews with the person to be replaced, as well as other people who may work with that individual.
  • Identify 1-2 Successors For All Your Critical Positions - This should take all the elements in the Success Profile for each role into account.
  • Conduct A Gap Analysis - Compare candidates for each role, and see if any candidates have gaps in their abilities compared to the success profiles for the job they are looking to be the successor for.
  • Build A Development Plan For The Successors - This plan ensures that they will be successful upon transition!
  • Capture Institutional Knowledge From The Individuals To Be Replaced -  We want to make sure that none of that knowledge is lost in the transition. Capture this knowledge via an interview with the Predecessor.
  • Document And Communicate All Phases of The Plan - This way, everyone knows who are the Successors and what their development plans are. 
  • Build And Share The Implementation Plan - Documenting what will happen during transition.
  • Implement The Succession Plan -  Upon the Predecessor’s transition.

Succession Plans Begin With Day One Of Hiring!

  • You’re hiring someone to fill a current role, but good HR teams should also be looking to build good career paths for employees - you want employees who will grow and develop and proceed along a career path that will then tie directly into the Succession Plan. 

Careful Conversations

  • When roles warrant a successor, Succession teams need to talk to the person currently in that role.
  • Make them understand that their role is important to the company, thank them for their contributions, and explain that in the event of their departure, their retirement, or in the event of an emergency, a successor must be identified to keep that role going.
  • Ask them to help mentor the Successor, ask them to take that person under their wing and help develop them for the role.
  • With some employees in critical roles, it’s helpful to remind them that it’s difficult to promote them unless there is a capable successor in place. 

Succession Plan Maintenance

  • Monitor and track implementation of Development Plans
  • On an on-going basis, make sure to go back and look at the plan and make sure it’s still relevant.
  • Acquisitions may have happened;
  • Different people may have left, including key successors
  • Other critical changes may have occurred at the company, requiring amendments to the plan


  • Provides a variety of options for Succession Planning assistance 
  • Benefits of hiring outside SP assistance:
  • “Insurance” against critical personnel loss;
  • Expert guidance throughout the process - custom assistance, from simple coaching to comprehensive turnkey solutions.

Book Launch

  • Unquittable: Finding & Keeping the Right Talent by Jim Bitterle, to be released in July (check with Amazon to purchase after release)!
  • Geared to help you “win the war” for talent!

Jim Bitterle: Backstory

  • B.B.A. in Operational Management from Michigan State University
  • M.B.A. in Marketing & Finance from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management
  • Began his career as a Consultant with Deloitte
  • Served as President of Flint Ink Corporation
  • Mr. Bitterle is the author of <enter book title here with link>
  • Mr. Bitterle is currently the Managing Partner of EDSI.


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