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Succession planning and management guide

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Table of Contents


Integrated human resources (HR) and business planning has become a critical component of modernizing HR in the public service by enabling organizations to determine their current and future needs and build for them. In order to enhance capacity for integrated planning, the interdepartmental HR planning working group was established and played a key role in developing the Integrated HR and business planning tool kit.

This tool builds on the work by the interdepartmental HR planning working group by providing information specific to succession planning and management strategies. Succession planning has been identified as a top priority among senior leaders in both the private and public sectors See endnote 1 . Trends such as the increasing diversity of the population, competition for skilled employees, and the ageing population reinforce the need to identify and develop skills in targeted areas and implement strategies to pass on corporate knowledge.

This tool is intended to provide departments and agencies with a road map of how to implement succession strategies adapted to their needs. The tool is primarily geared towards HR professionals. However, given that multiple players may be involved in the development and implementation of succession strategies, the tool may be of interest to other audiences, including senior leaders, managers, employees, corporate planners, and bargaining agent representatives. A streamlined version of the tool, entitled succession planning and management tool for managers, has been developed for managers.

This tool can be used to:

The development of the tool involved a literature review of leading succession planning practices in both the public and private sector; focus groups conducted across regions and with various networks and stakeholders such as HR professionals, managers, functional communities, and bargaining agents; and the participation of over 40 departments and agencies.

The business case

Departures and retirements

Based on recent departure trends, between 20 and 25 per cent of indeterminate public servants are forecast to leave over the next five years ( See endnote 2). In 2004-05, two thirds of all departures were through retirement. Because the 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 ready supply of qualified candidates for leadership roles and for other key areas when positions become vacant.

Competition for skilled employees

In a recent survey, over two thirds of public sector managers reported current or expected skills shortages, and improving succession planning was identified as the top action to address skills requirements ( See endnote 3). Succession planning helps to retain skilled talent by ensuring that employees are provided with challenging developmental assignments that support their career objectives and meet organizational objectives.

Increasing diversity of the workforce

Immigration was the source of 70 per cent of recent labour force growth, and projections are that it will be 100 per cent by 2011, resulting in higher workforce availability of visible minorities ( See endnote 4). 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 ( See endnote 5). Effective succession planning provides organizations with an opportunity to meet employment equity goals and thereby ensure that the public service reflects the Canadian population.

Need to retain corporate knowledge

There are considerable costs to organizations when employees leave, not only in terms of loss of skills but also of 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 whose careers are being developed are more likely to report higher levels of engagement. In other words, they are more likely to be committed to the organization, are more likely to take pride in their work, and are more likely to work hard at what they do. ( See endnote 6)

What is succession planning and management?

Succession planning and management involves an integrated, systematic approach to identify, develop, and retain talent for key positions and areas in line with current and projected business objectives.

Different organizations are at different stages in their approach to succession planning. The following chart can be used to assess where your organization is, and the information in this tool can be used to build a more comprehensive and leading approach to succession planning.

Traditional approach

Replacement planning

Leading approach

Succession planning and management

How does succession planning and management link with integrated HR and business planning?

As illustrated below, the process of planning and managing succession is a subcomponent of the broader integrated HR and business planning process. A gap analysis may point to a number of priority areas, one of which may be succession planning. Other priority areas may include recruitment, change management, employment equity, official languages, etc. As illustrated, succession plans should be incorporated into your integrated HR and business work plan. For more information on integrated planning, see the integrated HR and business planning checklist.

Planning considerations

1. Assess the current state of succession planning in your organization

2. Assess the desired state and begin the planning process

Steps and considerations

This section provides information so that your organization can incorporate activities for managing succession into your integrated HR and business planning process. There is not a “one-size approach” to succession planning-what works in one organization may not work in another, given different contexts and resourcing issues. Activities to plan and manage succession may evolve over time as organizations learn what works and what needs to be improved.

Respecting the key values of transparency, fairness, and accessibility

The approach your organization adopts for succession planning must operate alongside the core values of fairness, access, and transparency. These values are fundamental elements of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), which came into effect in December 2005. Within this context, it is important to ensure that:

Succession planning and management ensures that those employees with an interest in and the potential for key positions and areas are provided with appropriate development opportunities so that they can acquire the necessary skills and competencies to compete for these roles when they become available. Succession planning does not entail guaranteed promotions. It is important that organizations carefully manage employee expectations to avoid these kinds of perceptions. Although the focus of succession planning and management is on key positions and key areas, 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 and training opportunities to further their career development. But the analysis of key positions and target areas may suggest tailored developmental programs and activities to build competencies for certain areas.

The Five-step process

Five broad steps to successful succession planning are described in the following pages. The steps are as follows:

  1. Identify key areas and key positions
  2. Identify capabilities for key areas and positions
  3. Identify interested employees and assess them against capabilities
  4. Develop and implement succession and knowledge transfer plans
  5. Evaluate effectiveness

Step 1. Identify key areas and key positions

What are key areas and positions?

Key areas are the focus of your succession planning efforts. For example, succession planning activities may be geared to developing talent for certain occupational groups (e.g. executives, foreign service officers), functional communities (e.g. financial management, the HR community), or increasing representation of persons in a designated group.

Key positions are those that exert critical influence on the operational activities or the strategic objectives of the organization ( See endnote 8). This means that without this role, the organization would be unable to effectively meet its business objectives.

How do organizations identify key areas and positions?

The results of your organization's workforce analysis and environmental scan are a critical tool for identifying key or vulnerable areas. Based on current and future business goals, changes in programs, retirement forecasts, turnover rates, current vacancies, representation of designated group members and mobility patterns, an organization may identify an existing or impending shortage that will affect its ability to deliver on its priorities. Because key positions are linked to the operational and strategic objectives of the organization, management needs to play a primary role in their identification. HR professionals, however, can play a supportive role by providing criteria to assist in their identification.


Managers' checklist

Step 2. Identify capabilities for key areas and positions

A clear understanding of capabilities needed for successful performance in key areas and positions is important for guiding learning plans and may serve as the basis for self-assessment tools. Moreover, knowing the required capabilities is necessary for setting clear performance expectations, assessing performance, and for selection purposes. For the purposes of this tool, capabilities may consist of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) or competency profiles.

Regardless of which approach or definition of capabilities your organization uses (KSAs or competency profiles), it is important that these are incorporated into your succession strategies to better assess gaps and focus development efforts.

What are knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)?

Although various definitions exist, we have defined these terms as follows ( See endnote 9):


is a body of information that allows a person to perform a task successfully (e.g. budgeting and accounting principles).


is an individual's level of proficiency in performing a specific task (e.g. statistical data manipulation).


is more general than skill and refers to an enduring trait or capability in performing tasks (e.g. the ability to analyze).

What are competencies and competency profiles?

Many organizations define a competency as any knowledge, skill, or ability, demonstrated through behaviour, that results in superior job performance. Some definitions include personal qualities, values, or traits as competencies. Examples of competencies include interpersonal effectiveness, teamwork, technical capability, and reliability.

A competency profile is a set of competencies typically applied to groups of positions such as occupational groups (e.g. executives) or that are function-specific (e.g. IT, finance). Some organizations also identify a set of core competencies that are aligned with their organizations mission and values and that apply to all employees in the organization. Competency profiles facilitate the integration of HR activities, such as succession planning aligned with recruitment, learning, performance evaluation, etc. through a common language and framework.

How do organizations identify the capabilities for key areas and key positions?

Consider creating a list of the most important capabilities needed for key areas and positions by using information from the job or position description and merit criteria, and by interviewing job incumbents and stakeholders.

A discussion of how to develop competency profiles is beyond the scope of this document. Activities may include interviewing content experts, job incumbents, and other stakeholders; conducting focus groups; administering surveys or checklists; and validating the profiles.

If your organization wants to learn more about developing competency profiles, consider becoming a member of the Interdepartmental Committee on Competency-Based Management. For additional information, please see “Additional Sources of Information” at the end of this document.

Managers checklist

Step 3. Identify interested employees and assess them against capabilities

The main purpose of identifying and assessing employees against the capabilities for key areas and positions is to tailor development opportunities in such a way that employees can acquire the requisite skills and competencies they need to prepare them for future roles.

How do organizations identify and assess employees?

Organizations typically use a combination of the following approaches to determine which individuals are interested in and demonstrate potential for future roles.


As a starting point in the process, many organizations give employees the opportunity to express their interest in leadership roles, career advancement, or lateral moves. There are various ways organizations can gather this information, including:

Assessment methods and instruments

Organizations may use a variety of tools for assessing potential for leadership or other key roles. These include:

Talent review meetings

Talent review meetings are used by some organizations to identify the requirements for leadership and key positions, assess the capability of people in their organization to fill those positions, and ascertain the developmental needs of potential candidates. A solid understanding of these issues assists in developing strategies to balance organizational needs with the career aspirations of employees.

In preparation for these meetings, some organizations create a one- or two-page employee profile (see Appendix A). Information in these profiles may pertain to career interests, interest in leadership roles, competency strengths and vulnerabilities, performance ratings, willingness to relocate, retirement plans, and development plans. In addition, a separate profile may be created for key positions (see Appendix B).

Effective talent review discussions:


Managers checklist

Step 4. Develop and implement succession and knowledge transfer plans

Research has shown that experience-based learning is more effective than classroom training in preparing potential candidates for future roles. Consider incorporating some of the following into your succession strategies. Some of these strategies may not apply to the Executive Group.

What are various strategies for learning and development?

Stretch assignments allow employees to stretch beyond their current abilities. Some examples include chairing a committee or meetings, leading a special project, or being assigned a challenging new task.

Acting assignments can be a good opportunity for employees to get experience at a more senior level by temporarily taking over another employee's responsibilities while they are absent from their post.

Job rotations give employees the opportunity to work in different areas of the organization and acquire experience in different disciplines or functions. The employee remains in his or her substantive position but is exposed to different streams or domains of work.

Mentoring and/or coaching provide opportunities for employees to obtain ongoing guidance and support from more experienced employees. These arrangements can be formal or informal.

Formal training, including language training, may include classroom training, web courses, and the pursuit of higher education and training.


What are various strategies for corporate knowledge transfer?

Explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge are different and they require different strategies. Explicit knowledge can be tracked and codified in manuals, directories, and procedures. On the other hand, tacit knowledge, which makes up 80 to 85 per cent of an organization's knowledge assets, is much more difficult to codify because it encompasses people's insight, judgment, and know-how. It requires strategies that rely more on interpersonal interactions such as coaching, mentoring, and job shadowing. Consider incorporating strategies that track and retain both kinds of knowledge.

Many of the previously mentioned learning strategies also facilitate the transfer of knowledge. In addition to those, the following may be used to transfer knowledge. Some of these strategies may not apply to the Executive Group.

Documentation of critical knowledge/job diaries: This is a record that contains key knowledge, including contacts, networks, resources, learning, best practices, answers to frequently asked questions, etc. A template may facilitate the recording of information.

Special Assignment Pay Plan (SAPP) : Using this option, employees below the executive level can be appointed to classified or unclassified positions for periods not exceeding three years. This option would allow the incumbent of a key position to be assigned under SAPP and remain in the organization, thereby creating a vacancy. Following staffing of the position, the former incumbent would still be available to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to the new incumbent.

Exit interviews: Employees who are leaving the organization voluntarily complete an interview and/or questionnaire, which can capture critical information.

Communities of practice: These are groups of people who share a common purpose or concern and who exchange ideas.

Pre-retirement transition leave : Under this arrangement, employees who are within two years of retirement may reduce their work week by up to 40 per cent without affecting their benefits and pension. This may be used as a retention strategy, thereby allowing more time for knowledge transfer.


In order to encourage knowledge transfer, management must consider giving the person whose knowledge is being tapped the time to share it, e.g. by reducing that persons workload so he or she can mentor, coach, train, or otherwise share information.

Managers checklist:

Step 5. Evaluate effectiveness

In order to ensure that your organizations succession planning efforts are successful, it is important to systematically evaluate and monitor these activities and make adjustments as necessary. This section provides some questions for reflection, as well as examples of indicators that may be used to assess effectiveness.

What are some HR metrics for succession planning?

The following can be used to measure progress:

What other methods can be used to assess the effectiveness of succession planning initiatives?

In addition to outcome measures, it is also useful to measure and monitor the effectiveness of professional development and apprenticeship programs and other corporate initiatives such as satisfaction with development programs and progress on individual development plans.

Various methods can be employed to evaluate these initiatives, including the following:

Managers checklist

Who are the various players and what are their roles?

Effective succession planning requires commitment and effort from various players in the organization. Under the Management Accountability Framework, deputy heads and managers are expected to carry out integrated HR and business planning, as evidenced by “HR planning that incorporates future needs, effective recruitment and retention, succession planning, learning and diversity.” ( See endnote 10)

A summary of the roles of the various players is listed below. This document can be used as a starting point for discussions, and modifications can be made to better suit your organization. Discussions with each group can help determine how they see their role and how they view the role of other players.

Deputy heads

All levels of management


Human Resources

Critical success factors

Consultations with various stakeholders and research on effective succession planning and management pointed to the following success criteria. You may want to consider these points as your organization builds or improves existing succession planning strategies:

Examples of departmental practices

Knowledge transfer

In 1999, results from Transport Canada's workforce analysis revealed that 69 per cent of the regulatory and inspection population was eligible to retire within a decade. An analysis of internal and external trends revealed that the labour supply of technically trained workers would be insufficient to meet the demand. As a result, a succession planning and corporate knowledge pilot project was initiated to identify critical subject matter experts (SMEs) and develop strategies to guard against the loss of corporate knowledge. For more information, go to the Community of Federal Regulators website

Statistics Canada has developed an alumni program that assists managers in need of expertise and knowledge by allowing them to obtain the services of retired employees. As part of the program, they have established an inventory of retired employees who are interested in sharing their expertise. The program facilitates the transfer of knowledge, allows retirees to mentor younger employees, and increases the organization's flexibility in handling busy periods.

A number of departments and agencies have established scientist emeritus programs in which retirees with an established reputation or a long-standing record of superior performance are allowed to continue their research. This gives former employees the opportunity to transfer their knowledge. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, National Research Council Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have established such programs.

Integration of competencies with HR planning and succession planning

Effective succession planning programs reinforce competencies in various HR areas such as learning and development, recruitment, selection and performance management, ensuring better integration, and simplicity. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Research Council Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Public Service Commission of Canada, the Communications Security Establishment, the House of Commons, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada are examples of federal organizations that have developed competency profiles for certain occupational groups and have integrated them into various HR areas.

More information is available here: Interdepartmental Committee on Competency-Based Management

Online tools to self-assess capabilities and competencies

The Canadian Transportation Agency, Industry Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Service Canada, and National Research Council Canada are examples of departments and agencies that have developed online tools so that employees can self-assess against their competency profile. Some of these online tools also provide information on learning and development strategies to strengthen competencies.

Skills inventory

Health Canada, Quebec Region, has launched a pilot project to better understand their employees' expertise. They have established a database inventory containing information on such things as position, job title, employment status, linguistic profile, career objectives, education, professional experience, years of experience, and skill set. Participation in the database is voluntary and information is provided by the employees. The database allows the organization to leverage the knowledge and skills of its employees by quickly identifying employees with specialized expertise for special and/or urgent projects.

Succession strategies

In 2002, as part of their Action Plan to address succession issues, Human Resources Development Canada initiated a series of focussed “succession conversations between the Deputy Minister's Office and each Management Board member to identify development needs, retirement plans, possible replacements, and readiness of potential candidates, as well as corporate issues that could not be addressed in the branch or region. In preparation for the conversations, templates were provided to participants to facilitate discussions, and external consultants were available for coaching and preparation for the meeting. The process and actions were guided by a set of principles (e.g. The goal is to identify pools of leadership talent, not heirs to specific positions). Other aspects of the Action Plan included updating their Leadership Competency Profile; aligning recruitment and selection with succession issues; focussed learning and development for potential leaders; accountability measures such as rewarding excellence in leadership development; and tackling systemic barriers.

At the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Senior Executive Committee meets quarterly to discuss the organization's succession needs. Meetings take place in a succession room, in which current and potential positions are graphically displayed for the organization's more than 600 senior employees. In preparation for these meetings, representatives from Executive Officer Development and Resourcing travel across the country to meet deputy heads and senior staff to discuss regional pressures, the requirements of key positions, potential vulnerabilities, and development strategies. The information is brought back to headquarters and is graphically displayed in the succession room, with each region represented on a different wall. The RCMP develops talent at multiple organizational levels, offering a range of development programs that identify and develop employees with potential for more senior roles. These programs include the Full Potential Program, the Officer Candidate Development Program, the Senior Executive Development Program, and the Executive Development in Policing Program. A competency-specific approach to leadership development has been incorporated into development programs at the senior management and executive levels.

Frequently asked questions

What is succession planning and management?

Succession planning and management involves an integrated, systematic approach aimed at identifying, developing, and retaining talent for key positions and areas in line with current and projected business objectives.

What are some of the key messages that should be communicated to get buy-in?

Succession planning and management is about developing employees and supporting them in their careers to ensure that the organization has pools of talent for key areas. It is not about identifying heirs to specific positions.

Succession planning extends to all levels of the organization, it is not limited to those in executive positions.

Employees play a role in the process by identifying their career interests, having an opportunity to be assessed for key roles, and developing their learning plans.

Succession planning and management is a priority among senior management.

The benefits are wide-ranging, including:

If organizations do not have the required resources to implement a succession planning and management process, what should they do?

The succession planning process begins with the identification of key areas and positions, in consultation with managers and HR advisors. This step can be completed with minimal impact on the organizations financial resources. However, resources to develop, implement, and manage the program would be built into the organizations Integrated HR and Business Plan for subsequent years. Consider implementing a pilot project for a segment of the organization; it will require fewer financial resources at the outset.

How can organizations implement succession planning in times of transition?

Changes in government, restructuring, and downsizing are part of the ongoing reality of our times. Knowing this, organizations develop their short- and long-term integrated HR and business plans based on their current reality and what they can reasonably forecast for the future.

Given these circumstances, succession planning becomes an indispensable tool for managers because it ensures a pool of qualified candidates capable of assuming challenging assignments on short notice, despite unanticipated events.

It is important to revisit the succession plan at least annually or following organizational changes and, if appropriate, make the necessary adjustments. In essence, plan for what you know and adjust for the rest.

What are some of the confidentiality considerations associated with collecting and using information for succession planning purposes (e.g. retirement plans, performance, learning and training, etc.)?

Some of the privacy issues include what information is being collected; what the sources of information are; and who has access to the information and for what purpose.

It is important that these questions be addressed and that the answers be shared with employees prior to their giving consent.

How do you identify feeder groups for key positions and key areas?

At the outset, it is important that managers speak to employees to determine their interests and obtain their agreement to become part of a feeder group for key positions and areas. To participate, employees would need to agree to share information such as their career aspirations and skills. This information could be used to build a skills inventory. An assessment of the current talent supply against key positions using multiple assessment tools would identify potential candidates for key positions in both the short and long term.

Whom do I contact for more information?

You may contact the HR Planning Directorate at 613-946-9303 or at Contact the HR Planning Directorate by email: hrp-prh-ref@cpsa-afpc.gc.ca for more information.

Additional sources of information


The profile of leadership competencies developed for the Public Service has recently been updated. The Profile includes four competencies common to all management levels and in all departments (management excellence, engagement, strategic thinking, values and ethics), as well as separate behaviours for each of the six levels of management.

The interdepartmental committee on competency based management assists in building and clarifying the application of competency-based management in the federal public service. You will also find a publication that highlights some best practices in departments.

The following functional communities have developed competency profiles: Financial Management, Information Management, Information Technology, Science and Technology, Service Delivery, Program Evaluation, Communications, Community of Federal Regulators, and Procurement, Materiel Management and Real Property. The following competency profiles for functional communities are available on the web:

Development/leadership programs

The Management Trainee Program (MTP) recruits high-potential individuals to the public service and develops them for key positions of responsibility. The Career Assignment Program (CAP) serves to accelerate the development of public service employees who demonstrate executive potential. As of April 2006, the alignment of MTP and CAP came into effect to reflect the continuum of leadership development.

In addition to these programs, the Accelerated Executive Development Program (AEXDP) serves to accelerate the development of public service executives.

A program to develop pools of talent is established in situations where there is a current or projected gap in specific skills or in occupational groups large enough to pose a threat to the achievement of organizational goals. Professional development and apprenticeship programs (PDAPs) usually involve a combination of formal training, coaching, and developmental assignments in order to recruit and retain talent in hard-to-find skills areas.

A number of departments and agencies have established leadership development programs aimed at enhancing their leadership capacity. These include Statistics Canada, National Research Council Canada, Health Canada, and National Defence.

Environmental scan; public service-wide

To better assist departments and agencies in identifying their short- and long term HR needs, the Canada Public Service Agency (CPSA) has released a public service wide environmental scan for 2004-05.

Executive community

The advisory committee on senior level retention and compensation (Seventh Report, December 2004) recommends that succession plans, coupled with current and forecast demographics, be reviewed to ensure that HR needs can be met in the executive ranks.

With respect to appointments to or within the EX Group, the new EX Qualification Standard has been approved. The Standard, which represents the minimum requirements for staffing an EX position.

Knowledge transfer and mentoring

The following references may be helpful.

Additional reference material

Appendix A: sample template for an employee profile

Name: Position (group and level) and title
Retirement eligibility date Projected retirement:
Years in Position Willing to relocate?
  • Yes
  • No
Language profile and expiration dates
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Oral
Key strengths (knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, etc.)
Performance ratings (if applicable)

Ongoing key commitments

Ongoing key

Ongoing key

Results of Tests and Assessments (if applicable)

Note: This template is intended to assist your succession planning efforts. It is not intended to replace any that your department may already have in place.

Employee's Signature:


Manager's Signature:

Appendix B: sample template for a key position profile

Position (Group and Level) and Title Name of Incumbent Employment Status (e.g. term, indeterminate)
Departure Date (if known) Reason for Departure (e.g. retirement, language training) Return Date (if applicable)
Language Profile of Position
Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities (e.g. can manage multi-disciplinary teams)
Replacement Challenges (e.g. low interest in supervisory roles among employeesin feeder groups)

Risk Assessment:

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

To assess risk, consider the timeline for vacancy, the overall impact onbusiness, and whether there is a shortage of skills.

This template is intended to assist your succession planning efforts. It is not intended to replace any that your department may already have in place.

Note: Incorporate succession planning strategies into your integrated HR and business work plan.

Appendix C: Succession Planning and Management for Senior Managers Checklist: Steps & Considerations

STEP 1. Identify key areas and key positions

STEP 2. Identify capabilities for key areas and key positions

STEP 3. Identify interested employees and assess them against capabilities

STEP 4. Develop and implement succession and knowledge transfer plans

STEP 5. Evaluate effectiveness


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