What is 'Succession Planning'

Succession planning is the strategy for passing on leadership roles and often the ownership of a company to an employee or group of employees. Succession planning, also known as "replacement planning," ensures that businesses continue to run smoothly after a company's most important people move on to new opportunities, retire or pass away. It can also provide a liquidity event enabling the transfer of ownership in a going concern to rising employees.

Breaking Down 'Succession Planning'

Succession planning entails evaluating each leader’s skills, identifying potential replacements both within and outside the company and, in the case of internal replacements, training those employees so they’re prepared to take over. Succession planning is not a one-time event; succession plans should be reevaluated and potentially updated each year or as changes in the company dictate. In addition, businesses might want to create both an emergency succession plan, in the event a key leader needs to be replaced unexpectedly, and a long-term succession plan, for anticipated changes in leadership.

In small companies, the owner alone may be responsible for succession planning. In large corporations, the board of directors, not just the CEO, will typically oversee succession planning. Also, in large corporations, succession planning impacts not just owners and employees, but shareholders as well. For small businesses and family-owned companies, succession planning often means training the next generation to take over the business. A larger business might groom mid-level employees to one day take over higher-level positions.

Succession Planning Advantages

There are several advantages for both employers and employees to having a formalized succession plan in place:

  • Employees know that there is a chance for advancement and possibly ownership, which can lead to higher satisfaction.
  • Knowing that the company is planning for future opportunities reinforces career development among employees.
  • Management's commitment to succession planning means that supervisors will mentor employees to transfer knowledge and expertise.
  • Management keeps better track of the value of employees so that positions can be filled internally when opportunities arise.
  • With succession planning, leadership and employees are better able to share company values and vision.
  • With Baby Boomer business owners and leadership retiring in huge numbers, a new generation of leaders will be needed.
  • Succession planning can cultivate a new generation of leaders, thereby providing an exit strategy for business owners who want to sell their stake.

Succession Planning and Life Insurance

In a partnership, one method of succession planning has each partner purchase a life insurance policy that names the other partner as the beneficiary. That way, if a partner dies at a time when the surviving partner otherwise would not have enough cash to buy the deceased partner’s ownership share, the life insurance proceeds will make that purchase possible. This type of succession plan is called a cross-purchase agreement and allows the surviving partner to continue operating the business.

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