Successful Succession

May 20, 2020

Resignations, terminations, redundancies, retirements and death mean that succussion planning is an important part of organisational risk management. Not everything can be planned for, but the strength of your organisational culture can determine success in uncertain times. Lack of trust and leadership legitimacy can destroy culture and make the task ahead more difficult than it had to be.

Plan ahead when you can, maintain communication and show true compassion for all involved and those left behind. People can see Bulls**t a mile away. Good leadership must have the courage to be authentic. Are your organisational values visible? and is your organisation a place where people can grow and thrive? These are important leadership questions you must ask as you plan for your human resources.

Here are some of my insights of dealing with succession scenarios


Some resignations are expected, some are a surprise. Organisations are full of people and just like any eco system, parts of the system need renewal, as do people when they need to forge their own path. Have you considered scenarios for when this will happen? Have you looked for alternative skills in your team? Do you have a mentor program? Or does a recent resignation expose leadership flaws and cultural deficiencies. Reduce your risk of surprise resignations by supporting career growth within your organisation, ensure formal and informal dialogue and have open discussions about career pathways.


Too often leadership is focussed on stripping back resources and not enough consideration given for those who have been left behind. Yes- you are rid of that troublesome employee, but did you plan enough for their exit? Do you know what they do? Did you consider cultural impact?

Without any real hand over you could be left with a gap in services, contracts may be at risk and surrounding staff may need emotional support. Survivor guilt is real and lack of acknowledgement and support can often lead to increased organisational stress and high rates of costly absenteeism.

My advice, be honest, don’t cover up reasons behind a sudden change in personnel. People know that sometimes things just don’t work out and philosophy can be misaligned. One scenario I encountered, the leadership decided to lie about a termination and just acted as if the person had never existed. They simply decided that the remaining staff had to “get on with it.” The result, very high legitimate absenteeism, due to the mental health impact of staffing arrangements, and the breakdown of a functional organisational culture.


If you have a cultural of trust and mutual respect, you can plan towards a planned retirement. In most cases, there is ample time allocated for handover. For long-term staff, I have often found that empowering that person to mentor less-experienced staff can be a healthy way for employee exit.

Many people experience grief and loss after retirement, due to a significant life change. It’s important to talk about this change and assist the person to adapt. You might even consider a reduction in hours leading up to the final day, and remember to continue to invite that employee to social events after they have left the organisation.


Having to support an organisation after a death is one of the most extreme situations I have had to deal with. I recall the trauma, grief and loss experienced by all when a long-term leader suddenly passed away.

I have been fortunate to have worked with a wonderful board who really understood the importance of compassion in supporting the team through difficult times long after the death. Together, we supported the team with a range of professional counselling services, a memorial and the determination that the organisation would continue to thrive.

Thankfully that Board did not tell the team “to get on with it”.

Risk management for human resource succession is often overlooked and can disrupt organisational progress, destroy culture and be difficult to rebuild. Leadership legitimacy is a vital part of successful succession.

Michele Barry is the Founder of Frontis Consulting and hates fake values.Succ