Grooming Your Successor

If you are an executive leader who wants to move out of your current role it will happen quicker if you’ve been grooming your successor.  As unfair as it may sound, there are times when the management team is hesitant to let a promotion take place because there are no suitable options for your replacement.   This doesn’t mean the team thinks you are irreplaceable. It simply means that they fear change and the work that goes into mentoring and training someone new. 

The worst-case scenario is that your promotion will be delayed indefinitely until they come up with the time and a strategy for this initiative.  The best-case scenario is that you will take on the new position while still performing your previous job duties.  This is the scenario that I see most often as a coach.  It is frustrating and stressful for my clients to be tapped for a promotion, to receive the promotion, but not be able to fully engage because they are juggling two positions. 

However, there is a better way and it allows you to have complete control over the succession process.

What many people don’t realize is that it takes 1 – 3 years to identify and thoroughly groom your successor.  This means that you must plan.  You must plan for your own promotion and then begin planning for who will take your place.  This planning involves career discussions that you can initiate with your manager.  If you have a manager that isn’t having career discussions with you, there is a problem.  Assuming your manager IS having career discussions with you then the two of you need to begin the process of identifying high potential employees that can take your place.  These discussions should also include Human Resources.

High potentials can be identified by outstanding leadership behaviors, a track record of success, leading high visibility projects, motivation, a growth mindset, or other pre-determined indicators of leadership.  It is important to ensure that person’s values, goals, and skills align with the requirements of your role.  You do not want to groom someone for your role if that person is not a good fit.  The only way to know this is to have a discussion with that person. 

Are you seeing a theme here of planning, communication, discussions, and transparency?

Once you have a mutual agreement about who your successor will be then the actual grooming begins.  Grooming takes many forms, again, based on a mutual strategy that should include Human Resources.  Below are some best practices that I have gathered from over 25 industries in which I coach.  

Individual Development Plan

An IDP is a written plan of how everything below will be accomplished, along with a timeline.  Your successor should own this and keep you updated about their progress.  Your job is to break down any barriers that hinder that progress.

Stretch Assignments

These are special projects that help prepare your successor to take over your role.  Stretch assignments offer the chance for that person to act in your role during that particular project.


Your successor should be allowed to shadow you to get a feel for your role and responsibilities.  Likewise, you should shadow them while they are on stretch assignments so that you can provide feedback.

360 Feedback

This is an assessment tool used to gather feedback from a variety of individuals who work with your successor.  The feedback is used to identify specific areas of growth.  The final report should be debriefed with a focus on any noticeable themes.

Formal Training

It is likely that your successor will need to attend internal or external training to fine-tune technical or soft skills.  There should be a budget for this, and a certain amount of formal training should be included yearly on the IDP.

Informal Training

Your company may have basic online or self-paced training courses also related to technical or soft skills.  Usually, no budget is required for informal training. 


Either you or someone at your level should be assigned as a mentor to your successor.  This provides a “go-to” person to learn from in a hands-on way.


You should always be consistently coaching your successor.  But, in addition, they should be assigned an external coach to help them develop important leadership skills.   

Backup Assignments

Give your successor some extra experience by allowing them to be your backup when you are out of the office or on vacation.  You will have to prepare them for this, but it will be valuable experience for them.  Be sure to conduct a debrief when you return.

As you can see, grooming your successor is no small task and it cannot be accomplished overnight.  Succession planning takes time, thought, collaboration, and partnership with a variety of people.  Allowing 1–3 years for this transition will help you avoid promotion delays or the frustration of performing two roles simultaneously

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