Kim Russel Discusses Succession Planning Best Practices

by Talent Plus

November 14, 2023Blog

Talent succession planning isn’t something you should wait to do. Kim Russel, founder and CEO of Russel Advisors and experienced healthcare CEO, explains why and how to think about succession in our latest episode of Let’s Talk Talent.

Why Listen to Russel?

Russel grew up in a medical family — her father a doctor, her mother a nurse — and began her career in healthcare administration. She spent more than 38 years in healthcare, 25 of which she served as a CEO. Perhaps her most significant legacy was the talented leadership team she developed over the years. Russel retired as the CEO of Bryan Health at age 60 just before the pandemic. After retirement, she established Russel Advisors and today works with boards and CEOs of hospitals and healthcare systems.

What Is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is the strategic process of identifying and developing individuals with the necessary skills to potentially step into key roles in the future.

Russel’s real-life definition is the process of preparation — not preselection. She sees the process of succession planning as leadership development and says the secret to success is developing teams, developing leaders and developing people.

Succession planning has two chapters: emergency planning and broader succession planning, sometimes called “talent planning.”

Emergency Planning

What would you do if a key role got hit by a bus tomorrow? Emergency planning is most crucial for leaders, but even other roles — like those that require technical skills or specific experience — need succession planning to avoid major hiccups should something happen.

Talent Planning

This is broader succession planning — long-term, retirement, the big picture of how an organization will train, develop and promote. This is what is most often referred to when people speak about succession planning. Zack Robertson, a leadership consultant at Talent Plus, provides an excellent synopsis of Talent planning on our blog.

Developing for Succession

As an advisor to hospitals and healthcare systems, Russel says succession planning comes up frequently in the boardroom. She shares how she went about the process when she was CEO.

When Russel was a healthcare CEO, she used Talent Plus’s assessment tool to recruit at the C-suite level. This helped her to have a baseline and understand a bit about a person’s strengths outside their narrowly defined job function. In healthcare there is so much change, so she found it important to surround herself with people who could respond and adapt.

What To Include in a Succession Plan

There’s no wrong way to format a succession plan, but plans should include some basics:

  • Name of the position
  • Incumbent
  • Most essential characteristics needed for the position
  • Background experience required for the role

Remember: Think of future needs. While it’s easiest to plan for what the role looks like today, remember you’re trying to project into the future. Consider what the role will look like then. What will the organization need from that position?

Next Steps

From there, typically there is a listing period for internal candidates. Leaders can work with human resources to determine if someone is ready now or in one, two or five years. An additional readiness assessment can help. Determine the internal development plan for that person. Maybe they need to work on some credentials or be on an academic track for preparation. Maybe they need some additional managing experience.

It’s not unusual for an organization to go through this process and see big gaps in skills or realize they don’t have anyone internally who’s on a development track. Going through this process can help an organization know where to focus and address vulnerabilities.

Talent Is Key

If you can develop leaders, why would talent matter? Russel says: “Talent is key. Talent is vital.” It’s assumed.

If you’re looking at planning for a C-suite position, sometimes an assessment may help a team feel more comfortable taking a risk developing someone because the talent is obvious and skills gaps are identified. An assessment may also indicate their talents and skills are elsewhere and may be better suited for a different role in the organization.

For more from Russel, listen to Let’s Talk Talent, Season 2, Episode 1.