Traditionally, succession planning focused on an orderly transition at the top of the company. Companies would plan for the time when a chief executive officer, president, chief financial officer, or other key manager would retire or move on to new opportunities. The focus would be on a smooth transition to new leadership, making sure the company stayed on track during the transition.
Succession planning has taken on a whole new level of importance today as companies anticipate changes in the workforce. One of the most notable is the aging of the workforce and the significant "brain drain" many companies will experience as baby boomers begin to retire. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over one-third of the civilian employees working for the federal government are eligible for retirement and 34 percent are over 50 years of age. The same situation exists, but to a somewhat lesser degree, in the workforce as a whole. Therefore, employers can expect that federal and state governments will be hiring large numbers of replacements from available employees to fill positions in both the private and public sectors.
In this new environment, succession planning has a broader focus. Companies must plan not only for staffing needs at the top of the company but must also identify and plan for future human capital needs at all levels–planning for the future growth and success of the company. If the company is not prepared and has not invested in its key employees, when the need to fill a position arises, the company will likely find itself looking outside the organization in competition with other public and private employers.