Succession Planning Tools: The Comprehensive Guide

By June 13, 2023HR & Recruitment

At its core, succession planning is the process of identifying critical positions within your company and creating a plan for finding and developing employees to move into those roles when they become vacant. 

In developing strategies to pass on leadership roles and knowledge, your company has the opportunity to not only safeguard its continuation but to ensure your company’s future success by growing its talent pipeline and strengthening company culture.

Succession planning is a crucial process for organizations to preserve their longevity. The process begins with the development of a succession planning model. Organizations that take a holistic view of current and future business requirements and goals can effectively prepare for a seamless transition of leadership, making certain that they have the right people in place at the right time to achieve excellence together.

How can succession planning tools be used to develop a succession planning model?

Various succession planning tools and software can effectively assist organizations in streamlined succession planning and decision-making. These succession planning toolkits and software tools can help organizations pinpoint potential succession gaps and adequately prepare for future staffing requirements.

The use of succession planning tools in the development of a succession planning model has other benefits as well. When used effectively, succession planning tools can foster a culture of trust and fairness, promote diversity and inclusion and encourage employee and candidate engagement. This is accomplished by demonstrating the organization’s commitment to the fair evaluation and development of internal talent. 

To speak plainly, employees want to stay with organizations that they feel value their contributions and potential. 

Succession planning tools for assessment help organizations better identify upskilling opportunities and discover highly qualified employees who can be more effectively positioned.

Which succession planning tool is right for your organization?

With numerous succession planning software options now available, it is essential for companies to select the most suitable ones that align with their unique business needs, goals, and values. 

Some popular top succession planning software tools available now include SAP SuccessFactors, UltiPro, and TalentGuard, which offer comprehensive features to their succession planning toolkit. Each of these can help organizations achieve a smooth and efficient leadership transition. 

Companies can also use assessment training by companies like TrueAbility to better identify high-performance employees to be developed into senior positions for succession plans.

Learn more about TrueAbility—an industry leader in providing assessment testing and has experience offering testing, certification, and training to companies like Google, SUSE, VMWare, etc.

Gaining a deeper understanding of succession planning

To truly understand succession planning, it’s important to realize that succession planning is not a goal to be met or an event to prepare for, but an on-going target to be reached. 

Succession planning is an ongoing contingency plan that will change due to external factors, such as economic factors that result in changes in business focus. In order to remain relevant, succession plans must be reviewed often.

No one can predict the future, but through succession planning, we can be better prepared to make the changes that will be necessary to meet new challenges.

The importance of succession planning

A robust succession planning strategy prevents organizations from experiencing gaps in leadership and helps leadership teams maintain a high-performance culture. 

By focusing on leadership development and identifying potential successors, companies can ensure they have the right people in the right positions to drive future success.

A side-effect of the development of a succession plan is that it makes the company culture and the business environment more positive. It does this by placing emphasis on the growth and development of the current talent pool as future leaders are grown and developed into leadership roles. 

A positive company culture increases retention which improves internal talent pools. Each of these side effects contributes to the overall success of the organization.

In short—there is no good reason to overlook succession planning.

Succession planning goals

Some common goals of the succession planning process include:

  • Identifying employees with high potential for leadership positions.
  • Developing the necessary skills and competencies for employees to succeed in critical roles.
  • Ensuring smooth leadership transitions in times of change or organizational growth.
  • Maintaining business continuity by minimizing disruptions caused by vacancies in key positions.
  • Enhancing employee engagement and retention by creating clear career paths and development opportunities.

Steps in the succession planning process

The succession planning process typically involves several steps, including:

  1. Identifying critical roles—Determine the essential positions for the organization’s success and long-term growth.
  2. Assessing current talent—Evaluate the skills, experience, and potential of current employees to fill identified critical roles. Companies can do this most effectively by using assessment testing.
  3. Creating a development plan—Design targeted development programs and initiatives to equip employees with the required skills and competencies for assuming leadership positions.
  4. Implementing the plan—Execute the development plan by providing employees with the necessary resources, training, and support to grow and succeed in their roles.
  5. Monitoring progress—Regularly review the effectiveness of the succession planning process and make adjustments as needed to address any gaps or challenges.

By following these steps and embedding succession planning into the culture of the organization and the culture of the organization’s leadership team, companies can ensure a steady flow of internal talent and protect themselves against unforeseen changes in the business environment.

Succession planning documents should be updated regularly to ensure that the succession plan is still in keeping with the most effective and efficient path toward continuity and continued success with minimal disruptions.

Identifying and assessing potential candidates

Employees are vital in succession planning. Your employees will provide the talent, knowledge, and stability required to maintain continuity. By investing in the development and growth, your company can build a strong bench of future leaders and ensure the long-term success of their business. I

Internal vs external candidates

When considering potential candidates for succession planning, organizations must weigh the pros and cons of promoting internal candidates to develop talent pools versus hiring external candidates. 

Some of the advantages of developing an internal talent pipeline include familiarity with the organization’s culture and minimal recruiting and onboarding costs. Developing an internal talent pipeline also has a positive effect on employee morale and company culture as well as increasing employee engagement.

External candidates may bring fresh perspectives and new expertise that can benefit the organization, particularly if the candidates are lateral hires that have held key leadership positions. Lateral hires in particular can be key to developing succession plans and maintaining business continuity.

A solid business case may be made for promoting internal talent and for adding new voices and experience. The wisest course of action will be to develop and utilize both internal and external talent pipelines to make the best staffing decisions for the company.

How to identify and develop employees with high potential

Identifying high-potential employees is a critical aspect of succession planning. These individuals demonstrate strong performance, leadership potential, and alignment with the organization’s values. 

Employees with high potential often have the type of critical behavioral competencies that are essential for succession plans. So how do you find these employees?

Performance reviews and assessment tests

Performance reviews can be helpful in assessing an employee’s potential, as they provide insights into past and current accomplishments. To support high-potential employees, organizations can offer mentorship programs, training opportunities, and stretch assignments to further develop their skills and prepare them for key roles.

Another valuable tool to identify high-potential employees is assessment testing. Assessment testing can accurately gauge an employee’s suitability for inclusion in succession plans. Testing can also be used to identify competency gaps in order to shape developmental opportunities. 

TrueAbility is an industry leader in providing assessment testing and has experience offering testing, certification, and training to several companies, such as Google, SUSE, and VMWare. 

360-degree feedback: essential to succession planning

An effective tool for assessing your employees is the 360-degree feedback process. This method solicits feedback from multiple perspectives: an employee’s peers, subordinates, and supervisors to evaluate strengths and areas for improvement. 

By incorporating this continuous feedback in employee assessments, organizations can make better-informed decisions about the best ways to develop an employee’s potential.

Gap analysis

A gap analysis can be conducted to determine how ready employees are for key roles in the organization. This involves comparing an individual’s current skills, knowledge, and experience with the requirements of a target role. Gap analysis involves a number of steps:

  • Identify key roles and their requirements, including skills, knowledge, and experience.
  • Assess the current capacities of employees through performance reviews, 360-degree feedback, and other evaluation methods.
  • Determine gaps between the employee’s capabilities and the requirements of the target role.
  • Create a development plan to address identified gaps through training, mentoring, or other support initiatives.

By conducting a gap analysis, organizations can more effectively identify gaps in an employee’s experience and prepare them for success in key roles. This will help to ensure a smoother transition during succession.

Developing and implementing succession plans

Evaluating and developing your employees will be an ongoing project and is an integral part of succession planning. The best way to develop your employees will depend on your people and your organization, however, there are a few essential tools you may use.

Individual development plans

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) play a crucial role in effective succession planning. IDPs enable employees to map out their career paths and to set specific goals that align with the organization’s needs as well as the employee’s strengths and personal goals. 

A well-structured IDP will provide a clear roadmap for growth and development and can improve employee engagement.

To optimize IDPs, organizations should:

  • Conduct regular talent assessment and performance reviews
  • Offer learning and development opportunities tailored to the unique needs of the employee and the company
  • Provide timely feedback and coaching to keep employees on track toward their goals

Upskilling and coaching for succession planning

To ensure a robust talent pipeline, organizations must invest in upskilling and coaching their employees. This proactive approach to talent management helps develop leaders who possess the necessary skills, comprehensive knowledge, and experience to excel in their future roles. 

Key components of this process include:

  • Identifying skill gaps and areas for development
  • Offering targeted training programs, webinars, and workshops
  • Providing access to external coaching and mentorship programs
  • Encouraging employees to seek certifications or additional education relevant to their career progression

Job rotation and onboarding

Job rotation programs can be highly beneficial for fostering versatile employees capable of filling critical roles within an organization. By exposing employees to various functions and departments, job rotation helps develop a well-rounded understanding of the organization and its operations, while also promoting employee engagement. 

Job rotation also develops and improves company culture by encouraging communication between departments.

To better evaluate employees and implement more effective job rotation programs, organizations should:

  • Select high-potential employees with the skills and aptitude to succeed in diverse roles
  • Create a structured onboarding process for smooth transitions between departments
  • Foster a supportive environment in which employees feel comfortable asking questions and seeking guidance
  • Monitor employee progress and provide feedback to ensure continuous growth and learning

In conclusion, developing and implementing succession plans should involve a strategic combination of behavioral assessments to create individual development plans. These plans will be tailored to the individual employee but they all should involve upskilling and coaching. 

Succession plans that facilitate effective job rotation will ensure the organization has a strong talent pipeline of employees capable of stepping into key roles when needed. By using these succession planning tools and investing in these processes, organizations can enhance employee engagement, retention, and motivation, ultimately creating a more resilient and agile workforce.

What types of succession planning tools and software are available?

There are several succession planning tools and software available in the market that can assist organizations in effectively managing their succession planning processes.

Data-driven approach

Succession and succession planning software tools enable organizations to adopt a data-driven approach in their succession and workforce planning solutions. 

A data-driven approach leverages data and analytics throughout the staffing process, from workforce planning to candidate selection and employee retention.

By using these tools, HR professionals can measure job performance as well as employee traits and job behavior. This information will help the organization make informed decisions and develop more effective staffing plans. Combining technology and communication helps streamline the process while reducing the risk of cultivating an inadequate succession pipeline.

Human capital management software

Human Capital Management (HCM) software is integral to succession planning. HCM software focuses on managing an organization’s entire workforce, and retaining top talent while optimizing their performance levels. Implementing HCM software allows companies to create and execute comprehensive employee lifecycle succession plans, ensuring a smooth transition of leadership roles and key positions within the organization.

Benefits of implementing succession planning tools

Utilizing succession planning tools offers various benefits, such as:

  • Simplifying and streamlining the succession planning process
  • Identifying potential leaders for better talent management
  • Reducing hiring costs through internal promotions
  • Enhancing employee engagement and communication
  • Promoting consistency and transparency in succession decisions
  • Ensuring long-term organizational stability and growth

Top rated succession planning tools

There are a number of highly-rated succession planning worksheets, tools, and templates available in the market. Among the best succession planning software tools worksheets are:

  • SAP SuccessFactors: A comprehensive HCM solution with a highly effective succession planning worksheet function for enterprises with more than 1000 employees
  • Cornerstone OnDemand: A talent management suite that offers succession planning templates and other functionalities
  • Plum: An AI-driven platform that identifies the potential of existing employees to help create effective succession planning solutions
  • UltiPro: A cloud-based platform that provides talent management and succession planning features
  • TalentGuard: A talent management tool that includes a dedicated succession planning module
  • TrueAbility: Pure Performance-based Assessment is a comprehensive, blended assessment approach that is agile, scalable, and can be implemented quickly.

Managing unexpected changes and crisis

Managing unexpected changes and crises requires a proactive and prepared mindset. By having a well-defined succession plan, open communication channels, and a flexible approach, businesses can effectively navigate challenging situations and minimize their impact on operations.

Emergency succession planning

In the face of uncertainty, emergency succession planning is essential for businesses to ensure continuity and maintain operations. 

This preparation involves identifying critical positions within the company and developing a succession planning template with a list of potential successors for each role, including interim and possible permanent candidates. 

By identifying, developing and preparing potential successors before an emergency occurs, companies will be better positioned to handle the emergency itself rather than having to create a succession plan under duress.

In the event of unexpected events such as the retirement, resignation, or death of a key leader, a well-prepared succession plan also will guide the organization in smoothly transitioning to new leadership while minimizing disruptions.

Responding to a crisis

A crisis can significantly impact business operations, making it even more essential for businesses to have a solid succession planning plan in place. Key elements of an effective emergency response should involve:

  • Establishing accountability—Assign responsibility for succession planning to a person or team who will oversee the process and ensure its effectiveness.
  • Adapting to changing circumstances—Revisit succession plans regularly to account for the evolving landscape, such as skills and knowledge required in light of new industry developments.
  • Training and development: Support potential successors in gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully fill critical roles.
  • Internal and external communication—Keep employees informed about the organization’s plans and progress in addressing the crisis, and keep in touch with external candidates.
  • Balancing short-term and long-term goals—Focus on maintaining essential operations during a crisis while considering the organization’s longer-term objectives.

By developing thorough emergency succession planning and utilizing workforce and succession planning tools, businesses can navigate crises more effectively and be better positioned to take on future challenges and ensure their long-term success.

Communication with stakeholders

In succession planning, it is crucial to involve key stakeholders and maintain effective communication throughout the process.

Role of the board of directors

The Board of Directors plays a significant role in overseeing the whole succession planning management software and process. Their responsibilities include:

  • Identifying senior positions that are critical to the organization’s success
  • Creating a talent pipeline and preparing employees to fill vacancies as others retire or move on
  • Ensuring a strong methodology or tools are in place for succession planning2
  • Assessing and nominating suitable candidates for approval
  • Guiding the development of required competencies in potential successors

By actively participating in the process, the Board of Directors can help ensure a smooth and successful transition when the need for leadership change arises.

Succession planning strategies and best practices

The importance of employee engagement

Effective succession planning begins with engaged employees who understand their role in the company’s future success. When employees are aware of their responsibilities and the impact they have on the organization, they are more likely to invest in their personal and professional development. 

Some proven methods to encourage employee engagement include regular communication, offering development opportunities, and ensuring they understand their career path.

Long-term succession plans

Consideration for succession planning best practices should include the long-term vision of the organization. 

Long-term plans and succession planning template templates should address both the immediate and future needs of the business, encompassing retirements, promotions, and the potential shifting requirements of an aging workforce. 

A robust long-term succession planning plan also helps ensure smooth transitions and maintains stability in crucial roles.

Balancing cost and effectiveness

Finding a balance between cost and effectiveness in a succession planning strategy is essential. Organizations should aim to develop internal talent, which can be a cost-effective approach compared to hiring externally. 

By investing in development plans and training opportunities for high-potential employees, businesses can minimize the expense associated with recruiting top talent while ensuring a smooth transition to new leadership when necessary.

Workforce and HR analytics

Utilizing both workforce and other succession planning tools, software, and HR analytics can support succession planning efforts by identifying high-potential employees and determining promotion readiness. 

HR analytics can provide valuable data on employee performance, skill sets, growth potential, and organizational needs, which can be used to inform thoughtful and comprehensive succession plans. 

By leveraging data, organizations can identify skill gaps, inform training and development efforts, and ensure a pipeline of capable leaders is prepared for future roles.

Frequently asked questions

What should be considered in succession planning?

Succession plans should take into consideration worst-case scenarios, laws and costs. Additionally, succession planning should also look at other succession options and contingencies.

What causes succession plans to fail?

The biggest hurdle that succession plans face is a lack of insight into and awareness of the skills of the internal talent pool of the company. It’s not possible to develop a strong succession plan without knowing who will step into key positions if necessary and which gaps will need to be addressed.

Should you tell employees they’re part of the succession plan?

Employees should be aware if they are being considered to be part of the succession plan. It will be important to let individuals know that they are being considered for key positions so they can understand how and why they’ve being developed.


Change is the only constant in our world today. Sometimes, change can be incremental over time, and sometimes it can be massive in an instant.

We only need to look at COVID to see how change can disrupt companies. But we can prepare for disruption. By utilizing data-driven technology such as HCM software, and reviewing succession planning software solutions and best practices in their succession planning organizations can ensure the continuous growth and long-term stability of their workforce.

Jodi Mai began her career as a recruiter after college. She moved into an HR Generalist role and later, into HR management, working on such topics as employee relations, benefit administration, and payroll. Over the last 15 years, she has worked in the talent acquisition and management industry, and since 2018, Jodi has expanded to HR consulting and writing on HR and recruitment topics.

Learn more about TrueAbility—an industry leader in providing assessment testing and has experience offering testing, certification, and training to companies like Google, SUSE, VMWare, etc.

About TrueAbililty 

TrueAbility is a trusted global performance-based technical assessment provider offering a community ecosystem allowing technical professionals and employers to collaborate and measure skill sets through AbilityScreen®. AbilityScreen is the only fully-managed performance-based technical assessment platform operating in a live, cloud environment that automates recruiting and hiring processes to definitively assess and qualify a technical professional’s technology experience.

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