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Succession planning and management guide

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For executives

Succession planning and management is an essential component of broader human resources planning and is key to delivery of Public Service renewal. Effective succession planning and management helps organizations to identify, develop and retain capable and skilled employees in line with current and projected business objectives.

This guide will help you incorporate succession planning and management into your human resources planning process.

What is succession planning and management?

Succession planning and management involves an integrated, systematic approach to identifying, developing and retaining employees in line with current and projected business objectives.

It is about developing pools of talent to fill key areas and positions that are critical to an organization's ongoing operations and long-term goals. Succession planning helps employees to acquire the skills and competencies they need to compete for these positions when they become available. It does not entail guaranteed promotions for individual candidates.

Executives, managers and human resources professionals all play important roles in succession planning and management. So do employees, who are responsible for expressing an interest in career advancement, having learning plans and participating in opportunities to acquire capabilities in certain areas.

Currently, federal public sector organizations are at different stages in their approach to succession planning and management. Before beginning the planning process, you should assess the state of succession planning in your organization, including the need to reflect key values. Several key principles can help you tap into the advantages of succession planning and management.

Key principles

Succession planning and management is aligned with business plans and broader human resources planning process and linked to performance management; training, learning and development; staffing and recruitment; diversity and employment equity; official languages.

Succession planning and management extends to all levels: Succession planning and management considers all key areas and positions within an organization: it is not limited to executive-level positions.

Succession planning and management is about creating a pool of talent: Planning for current and future needs involves helping employees to develop the skills and competencies to ensure that the organization has a pool of talent for key areas. It is not about identifying individual candidates for specific positions.

Succession planning and management is values-based and well communicated: There is collaboration among key players, the process is well communicated and fair, accessible and transparent.

Succession planning efforts are monitored, measured and evaluated: Processes are established to monitor performance and progress in achieving the objectives outlined in both the succession plan and employees' learning plans.


The benefits are wide-ranging, including:

The business case

Departures and retirements
Based on departure trends, around 25 percent of indeterminate public servants are forecast to leave the Public Service over the next five years (2008 to 2013). In 2008, two-thirds of all departures were attributable to retirement. Because retirements will occur over a period of time, this is a manageable issue; however, it requires strategic planning. Effective succession planning ensures that the federal government will have a supply of candidates who are qualified for leadership roles and other key areas and positions when these become vacant.

Competition for skilled employees
In a survey by the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, over two thirds of public sector managers reported current or expected shortages of skills and identified succession planning as the top action needed to address these shortages. Succession planning helps to retain skilled talent by ensuring that employees are provided with challenging assignments that support their career objectives.

Increasing diversity of the workforce
Immigration was the source of 70 percent of recent labour force growth, according to Statistics Canada, and projections are that it will be 100 percent by 2011, resulting in higher workforce availability of visible minorities. Without a systematic succession planning process, job incumbents tend to identify and groom successors who are remarkably similar to themselves in appearance, background and values. Effective succession planning ensures that strategies are in place to meet employment equity goals, and therefore that the Public Service reflects the Canadian population it serves.

Need to retain corporate knowledge
When employees leave, organizations may face not only loss of skills but also loss of corporate knowledge. Effective succession planning ensures that strategies are in place for knowledge transfer.

Career development leads to higher levels of employee engagement
Employees who are given opportunities to develop their careers are more likely to report higher levels of engagement. In other words, they are more likely to be committed to the organization, to take pride in their work and to work hard at what they do, resulting in cost benefits.

Approach to succession planning and management

There is not a “one-size fits all” approach to succession planning—what works in one organization may not work in another, given different contexts and resources. Moreover, an approach may evolve over time as an organization learns what works and what needs to be improved.

Different organizations are at different stages in their approach to succession planning. You can use the following chart to assess the state of succession planning in your organization. The information you gather can be used to build a more comprehensive, leading approach to succession planning.

Traditional Approach

Replacement Planning

  • Focus is limited to executive-level positions.
  • Focus is on identifying immediate and short-term replacements.
  • Plans are limited to identifying one or two potential successors for senior positions.
  • Plans are linked to individual job requirements.
  • Potential candidates are identified based solely on feedback from their immediate supervisor.
  • Succession planning is done in isolation from other HR disciplines (e.g. diversity initiatives, recruitment, and learning, training and development).

Leading Approach

Succession Planning and Management

  • Focus is on key areas and positions at different levels.
  • Focus is on the development of talent for the longer term.
  • Plans include developing pools of talent for key areas and positions.
  • Plans are linked to building competencies and skills that are required to achieve current and future business goals.
  • A systematic process is used to assess candidates based on feedback from multiple perspectives and sources of information.
  • Processes are in place to integrate succession planning with other HR disciplines.

Key values: transparency, fairness and accessibility

Succession planning and management must reflect the core values of fairness, access and transparency. These are fundamental values of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA).

It is important to ensure that:

  • the succession planning process is transparent and well communicated to all employees;
  • candidates are assessed objectively, without personal favouritism;
  • employees who express an interest in career advancement have a reasonable opportunity to be considered for future positions; and
  • appointments are based on merit.

Succession planning and management should ensure that employees who express an interest in and who have the potential to fill key areas and positions are provided with appropriate opportunities to acquire the necessary skills and competencies to compete for these positions when they become available. Succession planning does not entail guaranteed promotions for individual candidates. It is important that organizations carefully identify capabilities for key areas and positions and manage employee expectations to avoid misunderstanding.

Although the focus of succession planning and management is on key areas and positions, development initiatives should occur alongside more broad-based learning initiatives. In other words, all employees should be encouraged to have learning plans and participate in learning, training and development opportunities to further their careers. However, the analysis of key areas and positions may suggest that developmental programs and activities be tailored to build competencies for certain areas.

Roles and responsibilities

  • Ensure that succession planning is integrated with human resources planning and business planning
  • Communicate and champion the importance of effective succession planning and management
  • Participate in the succession planning process and talent review meetings for executive level positions

Linking succession planning and management with human resources planning process

The five-step process for planning and managing succession is a component of broader human resources planning. As part of human resources planning, a gap analysis may identify key areas, one of which may be succession planning. Other areas may include recruitment, change management, employment equity and official languages. Your succession plan should be incorporated into your human resources plan.

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