This qualitative research study explored the research question, “what are the strategies managers use to establish a leadership succession plan?” The purpose of this qualitative inquiry was to explore strategies organizational leaders use to implement successful succession planning. The fundamental issue was some managers do not plan the development of succession planning. Chapter 4 is a presentation of the data collected from the qualitative interviews, peer-reviewed findings, and data analysis. Chapter 4 includes the results of data collected, and will present participants demographics, emerging themes, categories, the researcher’s findings, and a summary.

Participant Demographics

The participants for this qualitative research study included managers of all levels who used succession planning in their organizations. Each member was initially contacted through phone calls or email. Once the participant agreed to be part of the study, the investigator sent out emails asking for time and date availability to set up the interviews. The participants for this qualitative research study shared similar qualities and all were managers, directors, or business owners. Each participated in at least one succession planning initiative. Table 1 indicates the participant’s gender and their role in their organization. There were 11 participants including seven females and four males. Each participant willingly agreed to be interviewed. Anonymity required referring to the participants as participant 1 through 11. The participants were selected from the Western Chicagoland area. Nine organizations participated in the study, with two organizations providing two participants.

Table 1

Participant Demographics

PID Gender Position
1 Female Chief of police
2 Female HR director
3 Female Owner/president
4 Female Talent acquisition
5 Female Administrative director
6 Female Director of talent acquisition & workforce planning
7 Female Human resources manager
8 Male Regional sales manager
9 Male Director behavioral health services
10 Male Owner/president
11 Male Public works manager

PID = Personal Identification

Table 2 indicates the participant’s industry type, an indication of experience, key positions held during succession planning, and participant’s recognition of succession planning benefits, which were gathered during the data collection process.

Table 2

Additional Statistics from Participants

Type of industry Succession planning experience Key position

held during

succession planning

Benefits of

succession planning

Paramilitary Yes Deputy chief Projection of the future
Consulting Yes Key executives Planning for millennials
Marketing Yes Internship program Meet goals of the organization
Physical therapy Yes Support personnel Business security


Yes Outside sales managers Keeping sales people in the pipeline
Behavioral health services Yes Managers/supervisors Continuity
Health organization Yes Managers/front line new hires Retention/engagement
Health organization Yes Top tier executives Promote from within and grow your own staff
Village municipality Yes Director of community development, police chief, commander, Sargent, fire chief, deputy fire chief Developing qualified people to be leaders is a definite benefit


Yes Superintendent, assistant director, electric superintendent Understanding how the infrastructure works


Presentation of the Data

Six interview questions were asked of each of the 11 participants. The interview questions for this study were:

  1. Briefly describe your role as it relates to planning, and execution of succession planning?
  2. Describe the benefits associated with succession planning ?
  3. Identify the essential positions in your organization that require you to create succession planning?
  4. What skills are required for the essential positions in your organization?
  5. Please describe the search process for internal and external potential candidates?
  6. What are some of the major challenges you have experienced in seeking sustainable succession planning strategies?

As part of the data collection process, the interviewer selected leaders from various organizations that used succession planning. Eleven interviews were conducted for this qualitative study. Saturation was reached after interviewing the 11 participants. Each participant chose the interview time according to their convenience to meet with the interviewer and answer the interview questions. Each interview was recorded with the study participant’s approval. The researcher recorded all interviews, in addition to taking field notes. The interviewer transcribed each recording and saved all data to a nondescript password-protected file on the interviewer’s computer. Once all interviews were completed, the next step was to transcribe each audio file. Member checking was used to ensure respondent validation, to enhance study credibility, accuracy, and transferability. The analysis results of these six interview questions are described below.

Interview Question 1

Briefly describe your role as it relates to planning, and execution of succession planning?

Probe question – what led to your involvement in assessment?


Aggregated data for Interview Question 1 yielded five themes: (a) talent development, (b) recruitment, (c) collaboration, (d) coordinator, and (e) training. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 1 is shown in Table 3.

Table 3

Themes for Interview Question 1

Themes n
Talent development 8
Recruitment 6
Collaboration 4





Interview Question 1, Theme 1: Talent development. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 1, participants indicated their succession plan was working. It did not matter the type of organization or the candidates for whom the succession plans were created. Most of the organization’s succession plans were well defined and developed for their needs. Some organizations used a combination of strategies that ranged from well-defined and designed systems. Areas addressed included creating talent profiles to aid with creating talent pipeline candidates; we all have different personalities; and for people to bring their flare to make it even better, we have to continue improving.

Talent development/management does not have to be a set of nicely formed and defined strategies. What each of these organizations revealed is there is always a desire and a need to develop talent and to identify talented people that can be groomed to move into a leadership position. It is important for this exchange of knowledge to happen if the talented person wants to grow and move up in the company. Table 4 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 1.

Table 4

Interview Question 1, Theme 1 Responses: Talent Development

My plan is to leave this place better than I found it and to make sure the person coming in has everything they need so they can build upon it.
I am responsible for retaining staff and development of the staff. Gallup is an associate engagement survey that has 12 questions that will help you engage your staff. If you do not have an engaged employee, you do not have a happy employee or successful department.
My former position was an inside application engineer. From that experience, I learned the importance of exposing inside application engineers to the day-to-day responsibilities of the regional sales manager’s responsibilities.
I had the responsibility of managing seven substance abuse programs. In our programs, significant personnel turnover occurred. I discovered that I had to begin my assessment of personnel early enough to ensure that proper leadership was in place as staff moved to different jobs in and out of our organization.
My role is training and development, recruiting, benefits, work comp, etc.
My role is to facilitate leadership, to encourage proper actions, and to train the department heads to find leaders in their department.


Interview Question 1, Theme 2: Recruitment. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 1, 60% of the participants believed that sustaining a recruitment strategy was imperative to succession planning. Gray (2014) described how succession planning is used to develop key leaders in an organization; one of the first steps is to identify and further develop primary leaders and to create a career ladder by increasing engagement and retention strategies. A second equally important use for succession planning is to build a culture that encourages individual development. Developing both leadership and hard skills allows the organization to promote and develop the skills of its managers. To select the best leaders, organization must find talented people who can promote and generate new business (Gray, 2014). Table 5 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 1.

Table 5

Interview Question 1, Theme 2 Responses: Recruitment

Most police chiefs that come into this position are stuck with the current command and work staff. I picked a deputy chief and two commanders, so that was my first succession plan. I decided who was going to bring vision and mission emphasis into this organization and the organization into what I think needs to be progressive policing.
It was my duty to secure new contracts with others through marketing strategies.
I am new in this organization. I have been here 1 year. We have discussed, as an HR need, hiring top-level people from outside. We also believe that is a missed opportunity because we should be hiring a fair percentage from the inside. This demonstrates that we must have the infrastructure in place to perform the steps of succession planning.
In my role, I am responsible for recruitment of staff.
Sixty-five percent of the public works professionals in this country is 50 years or older. Not only will this cause a brain drain, there is going to be a mass exit of key people creating a need for recruitment.
The 3Rs are … the right people, the right time, at the right place. I try to hire the right people at the right time in my organization.


Interview Question 1, Theme 3: Collaboration. For Theme 3 of Interview Question 1, collaboration is not about a handful of leaders at the top of the organization. Dynamic enterprises involve department leaders, HR, and department managers to exchange ideas, share skills, and talk shop across the organization to create an inviting organization. Dynamic enterprises build pools of people that provide deep, rich, and wide bench strength through collaboration. Table 6 contains representative Theme 3 responses from Interview Question 1.

Table 6

Interview Question 1, Theme 3 Responses: Collaboration

I am a supportive team member to the VP of Organizational Development. I help look at and implement succession planning.
In my marketing role, I was in charge of everything in succession planning from start to finish.
Worked together as a collaborator.
As Director of multiple sites, my role in succession planning is to identify and develop staff to fill key leadership roles at my facilities.


Interview Question 1, Theme 4: Coordinator. For Theme 4 of Interview Question 1, succession planning, without investing coordinated efforts between leaders and managers, is a useless and ineffective exercise. Table 7 contains representative Theme 4 responses from Interview Question 1.

Table 7

Interview Question 1, Theme 4 Responses: Coordinator

I was exposed to multichannel, succession-planning levels.
I discovered that I had to begin my assessment of personnel early enough to ensure that proper leadership was in place.


Interview Question 1, Theme 5: Training. For Theme 5 of Interview Question 1, in some organizations, people are promoted based on their technical knowledge. Nevertheless, they do not have the soft skills to be a successful leader. Succession planning strategies need to be implemented when the workforce is decreasing and organizational effectiveness is required. One reason succession planning is needed is the approaching retirement of baby boomers, which is creating a need to develop future millennial successors (Leland, Carman, & Swartz, 2012). The pending retirement of baby boomers creates an urgency to have succession planning in place. Without succession planning, organizations will likely establish a smaller pool of qualified candidates to fill the positions of outgoing leaders and managers, leaving the organization to struggle. Table 8 contains representative Theme 5 responses from Interview Question 1.

Table 8

Interview Question 1, Theme 5 Responses: Training

Department heads look for leaders they believe can move up. I believe that mentoring is a huge part of succession planning. I had a great mentor early in my career.
We just promoted our first millennial to the superintendent position so there is quite an interesting mixture of different personalities of what we are consciously now training or ensuring what we would consider as the next generation of employees.
 I have been the HR manager since 2012. My role is training.


The above dialogue share similarities with a scholarly journal article titled “Who’s Up Next? Most Companies Fail to Plan for Leadership Succession.” It is important to put the right people in the right places. How leaders, chief officers, directors, and managers acknowledge the right leadership at the right time and the right place is paramount to the success of the organization (Cairns, 2011). It does not matter if the succession plan is formal or informal. There are a few essential strategies organizations must think about should they need to fill a critical role. Rarely does an organization restructure because of a lost CEO and just as rare would an organization eliminate the position (Cairns, 2011). Most essential positions are filled by internal or external candidates. Having a succession plan in place is perceived as necessary; although, there are some organizations who are not prepared for leadership succession. For example, in 2010, the 3M Company’s CEO suddenly decided to step down. The 3M Company went into a tailspin and immediately announced the creation of a succession process to select the next CEO (Cairns, 2011).

Interview Question 2

Describe the benefits associated with succession planning?

Probe question – Please elaborate, is it working or not working?

Aggregated data for Interview Question 2 yielded four themes: (a) system, processes, and people; (b) future projections; (c) collaboration; and (d) coordination. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 2 is shown in Table 9.

Table 9

Themes for Interview Question 2

Themes n
Systems, processes, and people 8
Future projections 7
Collaboration 5
Coordination 4


Interview Question 2, Theme 1: Systems, processes, and people. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 2, if succession planning is to be effective, relevant organizational members must be aware and willing to put in the time and effort it takes to create a succession plan (Smyrnios, Romano, & Dana, 2000). There is no single defined or developed approach; there are critical issues that should be addressed when planning succession. Creating a proactive approach to identifying goals and objectives is key. For example, when bringing on millennials, it is a good idea to understand their goals. Creating a plan of action to help individuals achieve their goals avoids picking the wrong person for the job. Choosing the right person for the right job adds continuity to the organization and keeps morale high. Leadership and employees must embrace transformative change since organizations are systems that interact on different levels with all stakeholders. Table 10 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 2.

Table 10

Interview Question 2, Theme 1 Responses: Systems, Processes, and People

I want to instill, even in the 21-year-olds coming on … welcome to the police department. What is your plan? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? It is individual succession planning. It is what actually moves an organization.
It is exciting, but it does not always work, as other things do not work. I may not pick the right person. It could be the wrong time, if they are not the right fit. However, if you follow the process, and it is about following your gut, you might find the right person.

The biggest benefit in my opinion is continuity. If selected staff is groomed through training and education early in the process, I have found that when these selected staff are placed in leadership roles, the programs does not suffer from unexpected changes.

It is taking me 12 months to understand how the system works, the whole system, and I literally mean the system. I am not talking about how the government works only. It is unique. To ensure that institutional knowledge is being passed on, we are doing things such as writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which we never used before.


Interview Question 2, Theme 2: Future projections. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 2, effective succession planning systems encourage a supportive future for the organization. The process of investing in the future can sometimes cost money, involve training and education, and can be time-consuming; however, it is worthwhile for future projections in the organization. Table 11 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 2.

Table 11

Interview Question 2, Theme 2 Responses: Future Projections

It is a projection for the future. It truly is a crystal ball.
Plans need to be made for millennials. They are interested in being promoted and they want it within 1 to 2 years. You keep the people you know are good and try not to let them go somewhere else. That is a big part of succession planning.
Developing the workforce to become leaders is definitely a benefit.
We had one intern who was shadowing an employee for about 6 months. We were able to promote him to a crew lead.
You have to develop a quality workforce and developing them to be leaders is a definite benefit.
Retention of associates is achieved by engaging the associate. It is transition as you promote people. If my boss asked me tomorrow, who do you think can step up? I can tell him because I have prepared associates to take over by using succession planning.
To grow your own staff from the inside is having someone who knows your culture and the way you do things.


Interview Question 2, Theme 3: Talent pipeline. For Theme 3 of Interview Question 2, having a talent pipeline focuses not only on replacing talent; although, equally important is developing talent from within to fulfill long-term organizational goals. Succession planning means being ready for the organization’s future (Khumalo & Harris, 2008). Creating a talent pipeline gives employees an incentive and a developmental goal to work towards. Keeping a talent pipeline creates a source of competition to secure business continuity and allows the company to remain a step ahead of the competition (Khumalo & Harris, 2008). Table 12 contains representative Theme 3 responses from Interview Question 2.

Table 12

Interview Question 2, Theme 3 Responses: Talent Pipeline

I would say from an HR perspective, to have an advantage, you would need to have a talented bench waiting in the wings should a vacancy occur.
I believe it helps with retention if all your associates see promotions are happening. They think there is an opportunity for them as well. If they were to see you hiring people from the outside and never hiring from within, they would feel stifled. They would not see any opportunity.
I have prepared associates to a certain extent to take over and that is what succession planning is. If I win the lottery tomorrow and quit my job, I have put people in place who can step up.
Succession planning helps to ensure you have leaders. You are growing your people from the inside; however, in some situations, you may still need go outside to find people.
When you are recruiting and hiring, you need to hire a high performer, and you need to look for the person who wants to move up in the workforce.


Interview Question 2, Theme 4: Employee morale. For Theme 4 of Interview Question 2, when employees are motivated, they are less detached, less inefficient, and miss fewer workdays (Valentine, 2012). Organizations that work at keeping morale high and employees loyal maintain productive employees. When management hires the right people for the job, employees are motivated to work for the organization. Morale determines how long they work with the organization and how much work they produce. Ensuring people understand their roles, their impact on customers, and the value they bring to the organization is vital for employees to feel connected to the organization. Table 13 contains representative Theme 4 responses from Interview Question 2.

Table 13

Interview Question 2, Theme 4 Responses: Employee Morale


It is all about the employee making the right choices and building those strong relationships.

Second to succession planning is employee morale. As an employee, if you think you have the ability to move on up and that is what you want to do, you are a happy employee in your job. You perform well and push yourself to develop.

Morale remains high when staff are promoted from within the system. I have found that succession planning works. The only setback that I have experienced is the personality of the chosen staff can change with new roles. Although, continued supervision would correct the issue.
When management allows people to make their own mistakes and learn how to perform well, people learn far more. My job is to allow you to go to the edge of the cliff and grab you at the last minute before you fall, pull you back, and say … Okay, so what happened? Let us try doing something different.
I remind employees to commit themselves to constant self-improvement. I do not care if it is formal education, informal education, or a book. Just use something to master their craft. That is a part of succession planning, because when employees better themselves, a rising tide lifts all ships and the organization is better off. The organization continues to rise.


Interview Question 3

Identify the essential positions in your organization that require you to create succession planning.

Probe question – have you created succession plans for any of the company’s essential positions?

Aggregated data for Interview Question 3 yielded three themes: (a) executive leadership, (b) management, and (c) human capital management. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 3 is shown in Table 14.                                                                                                    

Table 14

Themes for Interview Question 3

Themes n
Executive leadership 8
Management 3
Human capital management 3


Interview Question 3, Theme 1: Executive leadership. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 3, a rapidly changing world along with continuously evolving technologies, global mobility, and new markets are being created making succession planning even more vital than in the past. How well leadership continues to employ key people determines the success of the organization.

Losing a key executive leader, manager, or workforce employee can be devastating for any organization. Key executives have significant amounts of institutional knowledge, are familiar with the employees, and have saved the organization from disaster many times in the past. As described by one participant, I carefully considered whom I would promote as the commander; I thought the next chief is sitting in the room with me and is probably going to take my position once I leave. It is critical to have a qualified successor ready to step into key leadership positions. Losing other key employees can be equally devastating. Having a succession plan in place helps to reduce the effects of those losses. Table 15 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 3.

Table 15

Interview Question 3, Theme 1 Responses: Executive Leadership

When I first started here, one of the things I identified was the department has many older people. That is typical in public works departments. If you look at those retiring, people retire in large numbers and then nothing. When the fire chief retires in August, I will be the senior department head at 47.
As far as succession for the rest of the police department, it is a little more difficult because we have civil service. We do not get to pick all the people. I do have input into the type of people that we are recruiting and the kind of people we select from the recruitment process.
We call them key leadership positions. Currently, our focus has just been on supervisory positions. We started our first year with our executive teams. We give these positions higher priority should they become vacant.
Mostly key executives, department heads, management, and assistant positions. Sometimes you may not have opportunities in these positions because people stay around a long time.
I have been with the city for 20 months. I was an outsider brought in because the assistant public works director had no desire for the department head position.
We have several department heads that are retiring within 6 weeks of each other. That is a lot of knowledge we could lose.
Right now, we are starting with our CEO and those who report to the CEO. Each of these individuals will have formal succession plans. Once those plans are developed, we will continue to work down to the next level.


Interview Question 3, Theme 2: Management. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 3, people decide the needs for management, people change their minds and make decisions, and people react to their environments, which creates expectations for management. Management is the process of guiding people through real and apparent change of ideas, values, and processes while at the same time managing processes, procedures, and the daily needs of the organization. The fear of the unknown can lead people to stressful considerations, which is why a strong, well-informed manager can help people move through the challenges. If leadership is able to mobilize people encountering challenges, these same people will be more willing to embrace change. Table 16 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 3.

Table 16

Interview Question 3, Theme 2 Responses: Management

I have created succession plans for outside sales managers, VP Sales, and Marketing. I created a replacement for myself called “Regional Sales Manager.”
The essential positions are managers and supervisors for the direct service programs.


Interview Question 3, Theme 3: Human capital management. For Theme 3 of Interview Question 3, employees are typically interested in promotion opportunities and knowing how to achieve the promotion. Many leaders are concerned about succession and establish appropriate paths for their employees to achieve higher levels within the organization. This includes the planning a leader must apply everyday so the organization can improve. Table 17 contains representative Theme 3 responses from Interview Question 3.

Table 17

Interview Question 3, Theme 3 Responses: Human Capital Management

We promoted one of the street leads to the supervisor position. We then promoted one of the maintenance personnel to a crew lead position. Next, we hired a maintenance person from the outside. We have a defined path to leadership.
Used the Internship program for screening, hiring, and firing. Used the interns as a marketing person. Also worked with the interns and their mentors to establish learning plans that provided educational value.
To some, succession planning is a promotion path in the organization, which also helps retain good people. However, a good leader does succession planning every day.


In some organizations, employees take notice of succession planning as a way of ensuring the long-term future and protecting the organization from the unexpected. As indicated above, organizations create succession plans and employee leaders use best practices. These leaders create environments that nurture growth, career development, and create opportunities for employees to continue their development (Haworth, 2005).

Interview Question 4

What skills are required for the essential positions in your organization?

Probe question – how do you identify and develop the top five skills needed for essential positions?

Aggregated data for Interview Question 4 yielded two themes: (a) soft skills and (b) hard skills. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 4 is shown in Table 18.

Table 18

Themes for Interview Question 4

Themes n
Soft skills 9
Hard skills 8


Interview Question 4, Theme 1: Soft skills. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 4, soft skills are more challenging to quantify. Soft skills focus on characteristics, intellect, and performance. Soft skills encompass strong work ethics, dependability, self-motivation, effective communication, and interpersonal communication. Hard and soft skill sets are different, yet equally important. For this study, several participants required potential job candidates to have both hard and soft skills, which they believed are needed for essential positions. One participant expressed that we use an extensive interview process that includes behavioral interviewing to helps us assess candidates. One participant stated we could teach compentencies and we can teach how to complete the paperwork, but it is the mindset that we are looking for.

Another participant discussed mission and value skills, compassion, and partnership for all levels within the organization. Leaders must look at people, our patients, our visitors, our vendors, and our family as a whole individual so those that are in my organization have the proper skills. Most people have both hard and soft skills, but those skills have to be exhibited every day by everybody. Another participant stated we update the job positions as soon as they are vacated. This includes the education and level of experience needed for each job. Table 19 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 4.

Table 19

Interview Question 4, Theme 1 Responses: Soft Skills

I usually find that formal evaluation is indicative of who is going places, but aside from that, I built into the evaluation process needed competencies. For example, yes, you are good at X, Y, and Z, but do you have leadership traits? Do you display character? Do you remove barriers for your people? Do you display servant leadership?
So, we go in little chunks. Let us say I will obtain two high potentials. These high potentials work on career plans. As part of the process, they are assessed by their supervisor and others who know their work. Competencies are identified where the high potentials need some more help.
We identify where employees are strong. The supervisor can indicate a person is strong in one area, but the same person may need some help in other areas.
They must have compassion. They need to collaborate with all of the people they encounter. They have to collaborate with nurses. They must collaborate with doctors who collaborate with family. I cannot treat a member of the Ku Klux Klan any different than I can treat Mother Teresa.
We have dedicated training that is available for safety, technical, and supervisory aspects.

Interview Question 4, Theme 2: Hard skills. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 4, hard skills encompass precise knowledge and abilities, such as technical proficiency, previous experience, and educational degrees such as Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science (Laker & Powell, 2011). Debate continues regarding which skill is more valuable to employees: hard or soft skills. One participant talked about the top five required skills including education and experience; however, having managerial courage was equally important as hard skills. Table 20 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 4.

Table 20

Interview Question 4, Theme 2 Responses: Hard Skills

My people need education and experience, but they also need to have managerial courage, which is supervising.
The most essential positions in this police department is the first line supervisor. These are command staff, at the executive level, responsible for passing on our messages whether it is policy or a new system.
Education, such as a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science, is highly preferred. At executive levels, they are looking for efficiency and managing our costs while maintaining high patient care and patient satisfaction.
I send them to seminars on how to resolve conflicts between associates. The hospital has all kinds of programs and educational opportunities. I have an education fund that I use to send associates outside to develop potential.
We require education and knowledge.
The ability to lead a multifaceted team.
We do use an assessment test. It does a good job of documenting areas of strength and weaknesses for individuals.
We require a bachelor’s degree and organization experience.


Interview Question 5

Please describe the search process for internal and external potential candidates.

Probe question – in your opinion, does this process work? How successful is the process?

Aggregated data for Interview Question 5 yielded four themes: (a) talent pipeline, (b) selection process, (c) job portals, and (d) training and education. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 5 is shown in Table 21.

Table 21

Themes for Interview Question 5

Themes n
Talent pipeline 8
Selection process 7
Job portals 6
Training and education 3


Interview Question 5, Theme 1: Talent pipeline. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 5, for organizations to thrive and remain competitive in their markets, organizations must employ a qualified workforce. Employees have more obstacles than ever before, such as leverage, competition, and global markets. The hiring process organizations use to find the next candidate is influenced by numerous processes: departmental, politics, culture, knowledge, and how many positions the organization is seeking to fill. All can be a factor in the process used (Langhammer, Bernhard-Oettel, & Hellgren, 2012). Talent is an organizational asset because human capital is the heartbeat of the organization. Career planning systems and talent pipelines are vital for the employee and the organization. Creating a transparent user-friendly model is desired in organizations (Waheed & Zaim, 2015).

Talent pipelines allow organizations to shift from reactive to proactive recruitment. When a manager’s mindset switches from recruiting to filling an open position, to thinking about whom the organization wants and should choose to fill a position, they create transparent relationships by filling empty positions with quality candidates. One participant talked about using an applicant tracking system where they post jobs internally depending on the position. Eight participants described how their organization uses talent pipelines. Table 22 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 5.

Table 22

Interview Question 5, Theme 1 Responses: Talent Pipeline

The search always begins internally by reviewing potential candidates that have been developed in our programs. If no candidates emerge, we then post internally in the organization to see if there are potential candidates from other departments.
For the Community Development Director we did not look outside. He was promoted from within. The Mayor and the City Council hired the future City Administrator.
Use pre-existing relationships in the organization and networking to draw from the talent pipeline.
A manager recruiting team using our internal website fills some positions internally. Job alerts only accept applications when we have current openings.
I recruit from lists on our intranet that are available. We put ads out for people to apply through our intranet.
I may be grooming the street superintendent to be the next director of public works. What happens if someone else comes in and steals him? That is something you have to keep in mind.
For internal candidates, the search process is a promotional process.
We look at the present workforce to determine what their skills are including education and knowledge.


Interview Question 5, Theme 2: Selection process. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 5, the employee selection process is a strategy used to match organizational needs with candidates that are best suited for the job. Some of the successful employee selection practices increase employee activity, reduce turnover, and save money. Organizations use many strategies for testing and evaluation of employee selection strategy. Before the screening process, the organization must accurately define and identify the needed qualifications for the position it is seeking to fill. By advertising within the organization, potential candidates will emerge.

A participant indicated their search process begins by reviewing potential candidates that have been developed internally. The key to successful employee selection is to match organization’s predetermined requirements with the correct skill sets (Griffin, 2016). Ever since the introduction of Applicant Tracking Systems, HR has a different way of doing business. Everything is an online process. Reviewing candidate’s qualifications goes through a keyword search choosing applicants who have skills similar to those in the job vacancy (Griffin, 2016). Another participant described how they posted jobs internally for at least a week and if no potential candidates emerged, they would then post the job externally. Other participants expressed similar experiences. Table 23 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 5.

Table 23

Interview Question 5, Theme 2 Responses: Selection Process

Our recruiters can be assigned a requisition and they know how to do all those search features using different sourcing tools to find those candidates. Plus, our executives are well networked and are very good at finding candidates.
The goal is to talk about where they want the public works department to be in 1 to 3 years and 3 to 5 years. Next, they look at who might transition into a position, who might be leaving the organization, and who might qualify to go into a position.
Sometimes we have 70 to 85 highly promotable or not promotable candidates for sergeant. When that happens, they use an internal ranking process for selecting sergeants.
If we are looking for someone to hire in the planning department, we go to the American Planning Association website and post an ad. If they need to find HR people, they post the job on the Society for Human Resource Management website.


For most organizations, the first choice is to hire from within their ranks before seeking external candidates. Some of the reasons cited for choosing internal candidates over external candidates was organizational knowledge within the organization’s industry. Culture was also considered as a reason for looking within the organization to fill a position (“Why the next CEO should come from within,” 2011). Participants expressed the advantages of internal recruitment as an easier process than hiring externally and required less money, required shorter time to recruit, created fewer turnovers, and the employee was familiar with organizational policies and culture.

Interview Question 5, Theme 3: Job portals. For Theme 3 of Interview Question 5, many job boards attract top talent. Organizations find quality candidates with experience in specific industries. Job boards allow internal recruiters to post their opening in front of massive pools of possible applicants, giving organizations access to numerous job seekers. In today’s competitive job market, there are thousands of job boards from the local newspapers and Monster job board to Career Builder, Indeed, and specific specialty job boards. For example, a participant uses job boards from professional publications. When trying to fill a position in a public works department, we might go to the American Public Works Association website and pay for an ad. Other participants responded that job portals are helpful. Table 24 contains representative Theme 3 responses from Interview Question 5.

Table 24

Interview Question 5, Theme 3 Responses: Job Portals

If we are looking for someone in our planning department, we go to a community development board, such as the American Planning Association, and post our ad at that site.
Use job boards like the Illinois Municipal League and the Illinois City Manager’s Association.
If no candidates emerge from our internal search, we use various avenues such as newspapers, websites, and field publications.
My organization may run ads in Craig’s list or Indeed. They have not used Career Builder, but they use professional job boards to run ads.
The Internet is used to find possible job candidates.


Interview Question 5, Theme 4: Training and education. For Theme 4 of Interview Question 5, organizations use internal training to create a driven, skilled, and effective workforce to achieve organizational goals. Internal training has many advantages over training through external provisions or informal qualifications. Internal training often offers employees a sense of responsibility for their learning. When organizations train internally, they can customize the learning to fit their needs. Internal training can be specialized and more relevant; for example, someone who receives communications training from another organization might need to be retrained to use those same skills in their new organization. Only three participants discussed using training and education as a method of finding quality candidates. Table 25 contains representative Theme 4 responses from Interview Question 5.

Table 25

Interview Question 5, Theme 4 Responses: Training and Education


We have had some success developing candidates, but we are state-funded and dependent on the state funds to keep training opportunities viable. Funding is consistently challenging and the staff sometimes seek better salaries elsewhere. These situations affect our training process and limits the ability to provide good in-house training.

We review potential workforce candidates and determine their skills, education, and knowledge. We check to see if candidates need to do anything to increase their skills and abilities.
We use a local community college excellence program as a way of identifying candidates who express a desire to move up within the organization.


Interview Question 6

What are some of the major challenges you have experienced in seeking sustainable succession planning strategies?

Probe question – how did you overcome any barriers? Going forward, how can you maximize opportunities?

Aggregated data for Interview Question 6 yielded four themes: (a) organization development and change, (b) communication, (c) education and training, and (d) timing. The number of responses pertaining to each of the themes or topics for Interview Question 6 is shown in Table 26.




Table 26

Themes for Interview Question 6

Themes n
Organization development and change 10
Communication 5
Education and training 5
Timing 3


Interview Question 6, Theme 1: Organization development and change. For Theme 1 of Interview Question 6, organization development and change (ODC) yielded the most responses from participants. Several themes fit the ODC category: (a) diversity – one participant believed people who offer different perspectives demonstrate how you move an organization forward; (b) change – to improve the organization, we are going to do things we have never done before; (c) the shifting workplace – the need to stay competitive by upgrading skills, adhering to the changing nature of work, more consecutive careers, the changing workforce, and recognition of  the information age (Tuncay & Uzunboylu, 2010); (d) timing – succession takes a lot of time, but be done to establish the list of upcoming needs; and (e) differing perspectives – execution of the succession plan varies from situation to situation and many future leaders are not willing to wait for the position to become available. Table 27 contains representative Theme 1 responses from Interview Question 6.

Table 27

Interview Question 6, Theme 1 Responses: Organization Development and Change

Having only a few positions, but many qualified people.
In the last few years, we have had some leadership changes, which means my focus has to be elsewhere.
Changes are occurring in the home health care industry. Agencies do not have the advantages they used to have.
It just grinds my teeth when I hear people say you should run your organization like a business. If I could, I would not have to worry about having 10 maintenance level ones, all working hard, but having to wait 4 or 5 more years to move up.
People do not choose to use their voice. They have no pushback abilities or they demonstrate a reluctance to move up.


Interview Question 6, Theme 2: Communication. For Theme 2 of Interview Question 6, communication is fundamental in the business domain between leadership and subordinates. Effective working communicative relationships are the backbone of successful organizations; they shape interactions, expectation, and outcomes for the organizations. When managers and employees communicate effectively, productivity is high and both parties establish common understanding of expected results. Communication is ineffective when leadership does not support communication or establishes penalties on communication behaviors (Bisel, Messersmith, & Kelley, 2012).

A participant indicated how individuals cooperate and work together determines the goodness of communication. Another participant 6 indicated a common misunderstanding with communication is a hidden desire to know weaknesses. Table 28 contains representative Theme 2 responses from Interview Question 6.

Table 28

Interview Question 6, Theme 2 Responses: Communication

Going forward, I will continue to seize the presented opportunities by having master level interns completing their field placements at my sites.
I try to overcome the barriers by sharing the vision of the agency with potential candidates.
Every situation is different and everyone operates differently. Understanding people and how they operate is important when adapting and seeking common ground.


Bisel et al. (2012) argued that leadership and subordinates relationships depend on constraints from upper management. If crucial information sharing from upper management is not efficient, employees will collectively take a not-knowing attitude and learning will not occur. In a study conducted by Heikkila and Gerlak (2013), the researchers argued that theorists who study learning should be cognizant of individual characteristics in a collective setting. Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) indicated subordinate decision-making requires measurement of the individual’s actions and choices in the workplace. Individuals are diverse with differing skill sets and knowledge of individual learning processes, repeated routine tasks, inductive reasoning, and memorized episodic information (Heikkila & Gerlak, 2013). Understanding individual skill sets could lead to new knowledge creation, which could reinforce prior knowledge. Sometimes recognizing employee skills is not always the key aspect, as people who are exposed to new models of learning will reject the suggested skills based on prior knowledge and experience. Such an approach can make way for new ideas and beliefs.

Effective communication policies between leadership and subordinates can lead to higher performance and increased synergy creating a stronger business unit through combined efforts. Through group synergy, learning can occur for growth and knowledge as this increases effectiveness. Collective succession planning frameworks may help develop products of learning, which assist others studying succession planning and policymaking, by developing valid measures of individual and organizational learning.

Interview Question 6, Theme 3: Education and training. For Theme 3 of Interview Question 6, education and training incorporates problem-solving skills, systems thinking, and understanding, knowledge of interventions, advocacy skills, coping skills, and the ability to see the whole picture. Education and training should be aligned with development strategies. A measurement collection report should be part of the core learning/training strategy. Including leadership when developing employees while working on particular skills utilizes career development plans and allows leaders to measure learning’s impact. More advanced measurement applications such as monitoring employee engagement, employee performance, or business impact is considered time, resources, and support (Anderson, 2013). One participant indicated education, consistency, and getting a buy-in from employees is how and employee moves up into higher positions. Part of succession planning is us helping them attain the required aspects and the other part is them wanting to move up. It takes a firm commitment from both the employee and the organization. Table 29 contains representative Theme 3 responses from Interview Question 6.

Table 29

Interview Question 6, Theme 3 Responses: Education and Training

A succession plan would include education and development opportunities.
Through research and talking to my HR people, my organization is preparing us through classes and through literature. I have to understand that millennial’s want straight answers, appropriate pay, reimbursement for everything they do, and they want to be heard immediately.
I have to attend profesional meetings, talk to colleagues, surf the internet for agencies and service providers, and seek skilled profesionals like myself.
I have to provide new master level staff members with an opportunity to receive the mandatory 2 year supervision that they need to receive their clinical license.


Interview Question 6, Theme 4: Timing. For Theme 4 of Interview Question 6, some factors that inhibit change are moving too fast and not having people in place when certain actions are needed. People are expected to execute change while having little knowledge about new processes (Senge, 1990). The organization may not pay attention to some of the root problems or indicate why this information is needed to restructure the organization.

One participant faced a timing situation where they were seeking master level candidates for lower management positions, which required the ability to pay them. Timing ensures having the right employee in the right position at the right time. In some organizations, employees can retire in their mid-50s and this should be considered when selecting successors. Sometimes an employee may be lost, though the employee was developed for that next role. In another instance, the employee may be ready, but it is not the time for them to take that lead. It is all in the timing of what you do and why you have developed the employee. Table 30 contains representative Theme 4 responses from Interview Question 6.

Table 30

Interview Question 6, Theme 4 Responses: Timing

Timing requires showing people the attractiveness of staying with the agency. Staff turnover is a big challenge.
If the next available position is not attractive, that is one of the biggest obstacles. The opposite is also applicable. You have the opening, but the number two person is not properly prepared.


Presentation and Discussion of Findings

Table 31 indicates the aggregated theme data from the six interview questions asked by the investigator. Once the data were analyzed, the investigator created two categories, major themes and prominent topics as indicated in Table 32. The major themes are topics that were passel with the participants, while the prominent topics are findings that were less frequently mentioned by participants. Nevertheless, they are noteworthy and included in the findings. Complete results are discussed in Chapter 5.

Table 31

Themes and Topics Emerging from the 11 Interviews

Themes n
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 1
Talent management 8
Recruitment 6
Collaborator 4
Coordinator 3
Training 3
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 2  
Systems, processes, and people 8
Future projections 7
Talent pipeline 5
Employee morale 4
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 3  
Executive leadership 8
Management 3
Human capital management 3
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 4  
Soft skills 9
Hard skills 8
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 5  
Talent pipeline 8
Selection process 7
Job portals 6
Training and education 3
Frequency of reference for themes related to Interview Question 6  
Organization development and change 10
Communication 5
Education and training 5
Timing 3


Table 32

Major Themes and Prominent Topics of Research Data

Major Themes and Prominent Topics 131
Major Themes  
Talent management 56
Organization development and change 36
Human capital management 18
Education/training 11
Prominent Topics  
Collaborator 4
Coordinator 3
Timing 3


Table 31 is the cumulative total of the major themes found in this qualitative study. The investigator used member checking to ensure validity and credibility of the raw data that was gathered through interviews. Saturation was reached after interviewing all 11 participants. The researcher conducted a thorough review of the raw data and began the process of coding by looking for themes, patterns, and experiences. Responses were translated based on what was happening or what was said by the participants. Once all data had been coded and saturation was reached, the investigator began the process of analyzing the data looking for major themes and prominent topics. The investigator combed through the data a second time to ensure that a thorough and unbiased assessment of the data had been achieved. From the unbiased assessment, four major themes and three prominent topics emerged from the data. In total, seven themes emerged from the participants’ responses, which provided an understanding of the phenomenon. The participants answered each of the 11 interview questions and from the data, four major themes and three prominent themes emerged. The four major themes were (a) talent management, (b) organization development and change, (c) human capital management, and (d) education and training. The three prominent themes were (a) collaboration, (b) coordinator, and (c) timing. The four major themes and three prominent themes that emerged from the data suggested these are policies and procedures that should be implemented for sustainable succession planning. The findings directly relate back to the current literature used for researching successful succession planning.

The construct for creating sustainable succession planning highlights the importance of leader’s perception of succession planning and the complex systems they create to address the long-term talent needs of the organization. These findings indicate that when management has a clear approach to the internal investment succession planning offers for sustainability of the organization, a high degree of satisfaction is produced and a return on investment for the organization is achieved. The participant responses show an interconnectedness and openness to succession planning and show how collaboration can enhance succession planning as an effort used by leadership to move the organization forward. Additionally, the four major themes and three prominent themes support the findings. Leaders who understand the goals and needs of the organization and are willing to work with selected candidates must develop effective succession planning initiatives. The literature supports the findings in this dissertation and correlate with the participant interviews. These findings clearly show an alignment between talent development and the theoretical implications that succession planning and the strategies managers use to establish leadership succession planning directly affects the success of an organization.

Summary of Chapter Four

Included in Chapter 4 are study outcomes, findings, data analysis, major, and prominent themes that relate to the problem organizational leaders lack strategies for implementing succession planning. The investigator used the saturated data from the participant interviews to argue the results of this study. Chapter 5 is the final chapter in this study and presents an overview of chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 5 includes a summary of the findings in relation to the research question and problem statement. Chapter 5 includes the conclusion, findings, implications, and recommendations for further study and the significance of succession planning.








This qualitative study focused on the problem that organizational leaders lack strategies for implementing succession planning. The purpose of the qualitative study was to explore strategies organizational leaders use to implement successful succession planning. The single overarching research question was, “What are the strategies an ODC manager uses to establish successful succession planning?”

This succession-planning study used an exploratory qualitative design, supporting the research question, through a distinct set of interview questions (Lacey & Luff, 2001). Qualitative research was chosen because it was the best methodology that fits the purpose of presenting research on succession planning. An exploratory design was used to construct the interview questions used to collect raw data. The exploratory design was used to collect and interpret data and understand new meanings for creating succession-planning systems.

Face-to-face interviewing allows additional questions to be asked for clarification purposes. If face-to-face interviewing is not possible, the investigator experiences the loss of interpersonal communication since some people use gestures as part of their communication. Not seeing the study participant’s eyes, facial expression, or body language might have caused the investigator to misinterpret the participant’s response. The interview expectations were met within time constraints and participant’s responses to the interview questions were subjective. Gaining permission to conduct research in the specified organization did not result in any limitations.

Conducting research with human participants requires a particular set of criteria to protect ethical concerns. In the past, there were research projects that violated participant’s human rights setting the stage for a standardized protection for participants. Out of this need was born the Belmont Principles, a comprehensive set of working rules for research integrity. The Belmont principles were not intended to be rules, but rather a blueprint for research integrity throughout the study.

Chapter 5 is a summary of the findings and conclusions, as related to the research question, and problem statement. Limitations of the study, recommendations, and the conclusion are included in this chapter.

Findings and Conclusions

An important theme emerged from the six interview questions; all organizations use various elements for succession planning, or processes that are very similar and seemingly well known, although each organization customized the process to fit their organizational needs. Sun Microsystems uses a system that gives its employees the breadth of skills, allowing its employees to grow and sustain the organization (Risher & Stopper, 2001). Sun Microsystems designed their succession plan by using multiple measures and ideas. Organizations who choose to respond to potential candidates early in succession planning initiatives by testing new practices and then improving upon them, allow the organization to create distinct profiles for individuals who are pursuing specific career paths.

Current literature suggests an organization’s future growth depends on scalability and quality of its leadership (Risher & Stopper, 2001). Rapidly changing environments require organizations to accommodate job content and assignments. By creating talent pools of individuals waiting for review and development, the organization can expect to keep a continuing pipeline of leadership talent (Risher & Stopper, 2001). Similarly, this qualitative study revealed that talent development was needed for both managers and subordinates and was essential for organizational growth.

Using assessment tools comparable with performance reviews, executive selection allows organizations to follow-up with a development assessment for succession planning or leadership education (Risher & Stopper, 2001). Sun Microsystems uses a Leadership Skill Profile assessment to identify individual characteristics and business management skills that are expected of a leader. From the Leadership Skill Profile Assessment, leadership can identify technical, functional, and career paths for specific employees. Similarly, a participant indicated using a Key Performance Indicator (KEI) to assess how well people get out of their comfort zone and are ready to meet people and demonstrate their talent and ability to push back. Another participant had a talent management profile plan that was more than 20 pages and included succession planning, hiring, and retaining the workforce sections. This participant indicated, “We do not really have a computer system that handles that. I do a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of Microsoft Word documents to capture data; we do have a succession planning process.” Participants who were interviewed for this qualitative research were willing to share their story and contribute to the body of knowledge on the topic of succession planning.

Once the investigator received Institutional Review Board approval on May 23, 2016 and received the Permission to Use Site letters and Informed Consent letters to conduct research, the interviews began. Purposeful sampling was used to identify participants who could answer the research question: What are the strategies managers use to establish a leadership succession plan?

Eleven study participants who were leaders, managers, or directors in their organizations shared their knowledge, experiences, and stories with the investigator. Demographics of the participants were seven females and four males. Each participant was in a leadership role varying from director, to chief of police, to regional sales manager. The interview questions were open-ended, semistructured allowing the 11 study participants to share their experiences, insights, and perceptions regarding succession planning.

Raw data were collected by using the following six semistructured interview questions:

  1. Briefly describe your role as it relates to planning and execution of succession planning.

Probe question – what led to your involvement in assessment?

  1. Describe the benefits associated with succession planning.

Probe question – Please elaborate. Is it working or not working?

  1. Identify the essential positions in your organization that require you to create succession planning.

Probe question – have you created succession plans for any of the company’s essential positions?

  1. What skills are required for the essential positions in your organization?

Probe question – how do you identify and develop the top five skills needed for essential positions?

  1. Please describe the search process for internal and external potential candidates.

Probe question – in your opinion, does this process work? How successful is the process?

  1. What are some of the major challenges you have experienced in seeking sustainable succession planning strategies?

Probe question – how did you overcome any barriers? Going forward, how can you maximize opportunities?

Probe questions were used when the investigator needed to draw additional inferences from the participant’s responses. Each participant answered all of the study questions, although several participant’s answer for one question included the answer for other questions. Each participant was assigned a privacy identification number (PID) and all files pertaining to this qualitative study were secured in a nondescript file on the investigator’s personal computer. Interviews were conducted face-to-face and lasted between 30 to 60 minutes. Open coding was used by highlighting sections of the text, key terms, particular phrases, descriptions, and identified themes. The coding exercise was a non-hierarchical flat coding; the data were marked using selected colors to identify certain phrases, key terms, and categories and were placed in codified tables to identify each respondent’s comment coding and themes (Creswell, 2014; Lacey & Luff, 2001). As themes merged into subcategories and categories, a framework of the major and prominent themes emerged from the data.

Each participant’s response was categorized and subcategorized creating a matrix of information that revealed behaviors, knowledge, feelings, and opinions (Stroud, 2005). As participants shared their knowledge with the investigator through their ideas, insights, and experiences, when combined with data from other participants, themes emerged. Themes were placed into categories and sub categories, which helped the investigator understand the protocol for creating leadership succession strategies. From these data, the investigator used current literature to compare and further advance knowledge on the topic by including participant responses. For example, having a talent pipeline focuses not only on replacing talent, but also equally on developing talent from within, which is concerned with fulfilling organizational long-term goals. Succession planning means being ready for the organization’s future (Khumalo & Harris, 2008.

One participant responded by stating, I would say from an HR perspective to have an organizational advantage you need to have a talented bench and succession plan waiting in the wings should a vacancy occur. From the open coding design, the investigator continued to create frequency themes that were related to each of the interview questions. The investigator did another sweep of the data and created two categories, major themes and prominent topics. Major themes are topics that are passel with the participants. Prominent topics are findings that were less frequently mentioned. While noteworthy, they are included in the findings.

Major Theme 1: Talent Management

The major theme talent management was mentioned in 56% of the participant responses, indicating that when you evaluate the strengths of your workforce, you begin the process of taking necessary steps in the development of high potential employees. The high number of participant responses for developing talent in an organization’s workforce indicates the need to identify all unique strengths and needed improvements so employees can succeed in their current positions as well as identifying future positions for which employees can be ideally matched.

This study found that when talent pipelines are created for innovative and progressive business practices, the organization moves forward. This finding is in alignment with systems thinking and transformational theory, which focuses on interconnectedness and openness while allowing collaboration between management and subordinates.

Major Theme 2: Organization Development and Change

The major theme organization development and change (ODC) was mentioned in 36% of the participant responses. Today’s leaders must embrace diversity, manage change, and meet the needs of all involved stakeholders. Respondents in this study believed ODC was necessary for future projections, and maintaining a talent pipeline, through a constant renewal of systems, processes, and growth for individuals. There is not a single definition of organization development and change; many definitions exist. Organizational development and change encompasses many areas in an organization including changing people and organizations for growth, helping individuals and organizations with training, coaching, using talent management, building teams, and changing management to meet the needs and goals of the organization. Never before has rapid change occurred as when globalization increases markets and opportunities for growth. Increasingly, diverse markets require that a variety of expectations and needs be met if they are to remain competitive in their markets.

Major Theme 3: Human capital management

The major theme human capital management was mentioned by 18% of the participants. One participant responded that training is both essential and necessary, although it could compromise workflow, which in turn could place the department behind schedule. Overall, participants believed having a well-trained and developed workforce through continual development, workshops, training, and education is similar to a rising tide. The tide lifts all ships and the organization is better off and so are the employees, as the organization continues to rise and lend itself to succession. Human capital management is the cornerstone for an organization’s workforce and its successes. By systematically identifying and analyzing organizational needs as in type, size, and human capital, organizations can determine the mixture of experiences, skills, and required knowledge (Radford, 2010).

Major Theme 4: Education and Training

The major theme education and training was mentioned by 11% of the participants. Most participants believed investing in potential leadership candidates is a sound investment for the organization; it may cost some money, involve training, and even more training, but is very worthwhile. Creating coaching opportunities that challenge people through a process instead of telling them all the details creates better opportunities by letting them explore and find out for themselves, creating teaching moments. One participant responded, “We have all kinds of programs and educational opportunities, I have an education fund that I can use to send a candidate outside to develop them.” Another candidate discussed staff mentored by middle management, advising on educational choices, and steering toward training mechanisms to enhance skill levels.

As the investigator continued to create frequency tables, themes and categories emerged. Numerous participants in multiple categories mentioned these findings. Participants less frequently mentioned prominent topics; however, the investigator believed the prominent topics were noteworthy and relevant to the findings of this study.

Prominent Topic 1: Collaboration

Many organizations have a surplus of collaboration people, tools, processes, and activities available to them. Leaders want their teams and managers to work better together. Their goal is to have their subordinate’s skills and expertise polished to be effective in their roles (Haynes & Ghosh, 2008). Of the 11 study participants, 4% believed collaboration between managers, teams, tools, and leadership was necessary for effective succession planning. One of the biggest shifts in succession planning is collaboration, and not just the paper-based communication with records and documents. Participants believed collaboration was needed to keep succession planning efforts moving forward by working with directors, focus groups, and individuals where two or more people connect, share, and discuss ideas and content as a best practice strategy for succession planning. Participants believed developing a collaboration strategy to improve communication through systems and processes that match their culture and end-user needs was dynamic.

Prominent Topic 2: Coordinators

Coordinator was mentioned by 3% of the participants. Many leaders have done well creating succession plans for their teams; they can tell you what works and what does not work. Leaders are expected to have a strong vision of what a successful future looks like for their organization. To create a business future for the entire organization, a leader needs transparency and the ability to work through coordinated efforts with others. A successful succession planning venture should have at least two host coordinators as one participant shared; we activate a recruitment team when we have a position available. We send the information to the recruitment team, and they put out an ad. The recruiter will conduct a phone interview and if the candidate has what is needed, the recruiter contacts me and directs my supervisors or me to talk to this applicant. I make sure my supervisors interview the job candidates to determine if the candidates are a right fit for our organization. In many instances, a candidate will not ask certain questions of the director, but will ask a supervisor what is the workload like and how are assignments handed out. Another participant talked about herself and the administrative team researching succession planning and talent management together, talking with each of the department heads to get a good understanding of requirements, and hearing what thoughts should be addressed or are necessary to succeed.

Prominent Topic 3: Timing

Timing was mentioned by 3% of participants. Timing is essential to a successful succession plan. Some participants believed their succession planning initiatives were successful only when the right candidate was available at the right time for the right position. Many organizations work their employees hard and expect that many employees will retire in their mid-50s. One participant expressed the need to have a talented bench waiting in the wings should a vacancy occur. Another participant talked about their employees not moving around much because of excellent working conditions and benefits. Therefore, there was not a lot of room for someone who was interested in moving up the ladder. Another participant discussed concerns for the time succession planning takes. She expressed her focus needs to be elsewhere because of priorities and urgency; nevertheless, she believed looking in hindsight that succession planning would have been successful if they had positions that people were ready for, but feels they did not have time to develop the positions.

Limitations of the Study

The investigator formulated six distinct interview questions regarding strategies that managers use to establish a leadership succession plan to answer the study’s research question. Multiple respondents across seven organizations in the western suburbs of Chicago Illinois were used. The investigator realized there are limitations, and areas of further research still exist. The model that emerged as a conceptual framework for creating successful succession planning is stimulating; however, several possible weaknesses exist.

The study had several distinct limitations: (a) methodology – while the research design leveraged a qualitative approach in developing the research question, the goal was to extract the lived experience from study participants. It is possible the methodology was not the best approach given the research questions. The research design did not seek to identify all possible variables that lead to an unsuccessful succession planning initiative. For example, the research design did not take into account perceptions that may have influenced the effectiveness of a succession plan. A successful few years in terms of key performance and leadership may be more likely to rate the leader and his development higher rather than lower; (b) small sample size – to be more insightful, the sample could have been larger and expanded beyond the borders of managers and leaders to include other team members or subordinates who could be significantly impacted by a succession planning system. It could have proven to be useful in further defining a successful succession planning system; (c) limited research sites and geographic locations – the choice of geographic locations could be limiting given that local environments can tend to influence behaviors to greater or lesser degrees; and (d) potential for coding errors – could be a significant limitation to the study. It is possible the investigator could have chosen the wrong analysis descriptions that were coded.

Implications for Practice

This study should be continued by comparing the findings along with the four major themes of talent management, organization development and change, human capital management, and education and training to establish a succession planning system that identifies tactics and strategies needed for career growth and promotion.

Organizations complete in a global environment and human capital is the most valuable asset. It can lead to differences between a successful business and one that struggles. Human capital development is necessary to take the next steps in growth and innovation and is often under developed. Some organizations focus on hiring and training while neglecting human capital management and succession planning, which are the key ingredients and building blocks to creating an organization that achieves its goals (Butler & Roche-Tarry, 2002). Human capital management is the backbone of the organization; their needs must be met to keep pace with changes and remain competitive in their markets. One participant explained how important it was to become central to a unique situation. Since she works for an organization connected to a national system, she has the opportunity to be promoted in one of the other locations so she can stay within their national system. She believes her corporate headquarters does a good job of posting open positions. She believes this approach provides an opportunity to apply for a CEO, chief financial officer, or vice president position, if qualified.

As organizations continue to expand nationally and globally, an implication for practice is to explore what an organization needs to do to achieve outstanding results using succession planning by focusing on practical strategies that explore organizational excellence using the four major findings of this study. There are numerous other research possibilities that could be derived from this dissertation. The investigator’s overall intent was to add to the body of knowledge and contribute to best practices for succession planning.

Implications of Study and Recommendations for Future Research

This qualitative study was designed to understand the perceptions of succession planning from recent literature and study participants who use succession planning in their organizations. Study participants provided rich data that described succession planning as a systematic approach to creating and building leadership pipelines and talent pools to ensure continuity in leadership. The need to identify the best possible candidates to match with key positions in an effort to focus resources, create talent development, aid organizations in remaining viable in their markets, and yield a greater return on investment is a topic to be further studied.

Recommendation 1

Recommendation 1 is for every organization to create a succession planning system. There is no magic formula or style to creating succession plans, which can range from informal to formal and detailed. Some jobs in the organization are the lifeblood and are too critical to be left vacant or filled by anyone. These positions require the best-qualified person. Succession planning is a foundation that is linked to strategic planning and investment in the future. Successful succession planning creates an operative process for identifying, developing, and retaining top leadership and talent and is the cornerstone for success.

Recommendation 2

Recommendation 2 is for leaders to become change agents. An abundance of strategies must be considered to sustain change. Organizations must implement safeguards or processes that ensure diverse practices. As organizational development continues to gain maturity in business, there is no set-in-stone process that works for all situations. Little information is available on what works and what does not. Organizations need to continue data gathering and researchers need to continue looking at the variables that play an integral role in organizational change. Variables such as goal setting, intervention activities, results, and overall outcomes are all areas to be researched further.

Recommendation 3

Recommendation 3 focuses on human capital. For continued success, the organization must develop its human capital, which is believed to be the backbone of the organization. Identifying talent using critical competencies over numerous levels early and often allows employees to commit to self-development. Attributes that should be included as part of a succession planning program are creating and maintaining a cadre of key personnel who could step into a leadership position when a need occurs; in other words, develop a talent pool; create best practices for career planning initiatives; and provide education, training, and mentoring programs. Emphasis must be placed on formalizing a process to identify and develop talent to provide a continuum of in-house talent.

Recommendation 4

Recommendation 4 is to provide education, training, and mentoring so organizations create a coaching culture. When leadership looks at succession planning as a generative experience and people take on new challenges, leadership must give them needed criteria for success and then nurture them through the process. It is best not to simply tell someone, here is what you need to do. A mentoring or coaching initiative will be far more educational if you allow the employee to explore, learn, and discover the key processes for themselves. Succession planning and all accompanying detailed aspects that are involved are an investment in the future for the overall good of the organization. The succession planning process may cost some money, require education and training, and take time, but it is an essential and worthwhile effort.


This study was designed to examine the strategies managers use to establish a leadership succession plan. This study explored the distinction between managers who lack strategies for succession planning thereby creating replacement planning conditions and succession planning strategies that leaders design for overall sustainability of the organization. The study design was qualitative; data was collected from 11 study participants. A qualitative interview with six semistructured interview questions and six probing questions helped to answer the research question.

The investigator reviewed current scholarly and practitioner literature and used a qualitative approach to establish the meaning of the phenomenon from the viewpoint of participants in order to solve the problem; organizational leaders lack strategies for implementing succession planning. In addition, the literature was organized to understand how the proposed study adds to the body of knowledge, experiences, or replicates prior succession planning research (Creswell, 2014). Literature collection began with a review of the Industrial Revolution to demonstrate a history of management and leadership, followed by an analysis of the integration of women in the workplace, the history of leadership, and various leadership theories. Succession planning, organization development and change, and talent management created the conceptual framework for the literature review. The literature was reviewed, examined, and summarized to generate a basis for study finding comparisons and contrasted with the results, which were presented in Chapter 4.

Key attributes for succession planning were identified, explored, and discussed. The key findings revealed the most critical steps in creating succession planning, which are talent development, organization development and change, human capital management, and education and training. Creating succession planning systems require the leaders to take a hard and realistic look at their organizational needs and it forces leaders to look at their management style, which might require further development. Succession planning fosters accountability and is an essential element for building leadership. If there is a lack of leadership talent within the organization, leadership should use multiple strategies to find needed talent through industry specific resources, the Internet, and as one study participant explained, “When you have been in the industry for many years, you meet many talented people along the way. Those people help to create a network for professional talent.”

The following conclusions are presented to contribute to the field of succession planning by examining current literature with the study findings. These conclusions are a result of the literature review and the examination of the experiences of the 11 senior and mid-level managers and directors from various organizations, along with the desire to encourage further research on the study topic.

Talent Management

Pepe (2007) described the profound impact effective leadership has on the overall success of the organization. The examination of a systematic approach created a model that linked five core processes and performance evaluations. Measuring performance, learning and development, strategic staffing, rewards and recognition, and talent management allow the organization to create a successful model used for establishing the proper language when discussing succession plans. Leadership replacement is critical to any organization. Having a talent pool of potential incumbents helps to save the organization from unneeded expenditures and efforts (Waheed, Zaim, & Zaim, 2012). Participants in this study believed choosing who will be next in line for their position was significant, and by taking careful consideration, one participant asked what is going to happen and who can best fill my job when I leave. Keeping a focus and understanding on the most important asset in the organization, human capital as an employee retention strategy, will help to create talent pipelines. Participant experiences coincide with talent management literature as both focus on the leader’s approach to create systems and processes to evaluate performance.

Organization Development and Change

Major theme 2 agrees with the literature. Theoretical frameworks and varying models have significance; although, understanding one’s actual circumstances is a far better approach. We can begin by looking at what is in front of us including common sense, tenacity, planning, and understanding human behavior (Wasson, 2004). The cornerstone of an organization is its leadership; future leaders must sustain long-term success. Organizational planning and succession planning leads to a comprehensive roadmap for talent management. Participants perceived succession planning and change development as a focus of organization development and change. Participants discerned structured processes that achieve the goal of having the right talent in the right place at the right time.

Human Capital Management

Major theme 3 agrees with the literature. As its name implies, situational leadership depends on the situation the leader is encountering. The theory suggests that depending on the situation and surroundings, circumstances will determine the style of leadership a manager uses. Visionary managers use different leadership styles according to the situation, they analyze the needs according to the situation, and adapt by using the most appropriate style while remaining versatile and adaptable. Participants agree human capital management and promotions from within help grow staff and believe it is better to hire someone from the inside who is familiar with the culture, processes, and systems.

Education and Training

The literature and findings in this study shared many variations and similarities, yet are somehow different. Education and training are central to employability. Organizations spend thousands of dollars to educate its high potential employees, yet sometimes this practice can backfire. A 15-year employee shadows a new hire to mentor and show her the ropes; however, the 15-year employee show the new hire what is important to her and not all the small tasks, which are equally critical to the success of the organization. Management starts to notice some of the systems processes not being completed. It turns out the 15-year employee did not have a standardized set of steps to complete the job, so some essential steps were overlooked. Equally, important, one participant described how training the number 2 person to take over, and suddenly the CEO decides he wants to retire from the organization, but he has 10 years left, and the number 2 is not fully ready. You may lose that person that you have developed for the number one position. They may not be ready or may feel it is the time for them to take the lead, which is one of the biggest obstacles. On the flipside, you have a position available, but the number 2 person is not developed enough. The number 2 is not ready to step into the next role, leaving the organization to go outside to seek a new candidate.

One study found that training and development of employees are thought to be increasingly important for the organization to be successful (Nilsson & Per-Erik, 2012). Another study participant described his experience when education and training go bad. He expressed that since his organization is state-funded and depends on state funds to remain sustainable, sometimes the process suffers directly and indirectly depending on state funding. Program funding can consistently be cut off, leaving staff to seek more lucrative salaries elsewhere, and the ability to offer comparable salaries is impaired. The candidate believes each of the above scenarios affects the process. It also limits and sometimes eliminates the capacity to provide proper training in-house. Another participant expressed how experience is key in his organization and years ago could become chief without a degree. This finding indicates that education training is required for future sustainability of the organization, even though situations can occur that minimize the success of an educational initiative.

You Need a Professional Writer To Work On Your Paper?