Succession planning with guest, Jocelyn Bérard

Interview host: Amanda Fleising - 2021 | 03 | 29

People potential with Amanda

Follow our  YouTube channel to watch this full interview as well as our other People potential series. Every month, various experts will be brought on to discuss empowering individuals and organizations to achieve their full potential.

Our interviews are also available as podcasts, follow us on your favorite platforms:

Jocelyn Bérard, President of the Central Region at Optimum Talent, a division of Gallagher Benefit Services Canada

Jocelyn Bérard is the President of the central region at Optimum Talent, which is an integrated talent management company and is now a division of Gallagher Benefit Services Canada. Jocelyn is based out of Toronto and he is an experienced executive, who has also written a book titled Accelerating Leadership Development, published by Wiley.


He’s a psychologist with an MBA and he is passionate about talent management and people’s performance. He first started his career working for financial institutions in Human Resource talent management. He then had an international career for many years in Europe, in the Middle East, in the US and a little bit in Asia. He worked as an executive, but also offering consulting services, especially coaching CEOs and preparing succession.

Succession planning vs. succession management

Multiple people talk about succession planning, I prefer talk about succession management. Succession management is not a new practice. Back in the days, some organizations like Pepsi Cola were well known to do a lot of work in succession planning and what it used to be, it was really about planning who could replace whom in the organization.


We had the expression of the big binder approach where you would have pages and pages of org. charts. Imagine an international organization where you would create a shadow org. chart to say if this executive would leave, who could we replace them. And that was really where the idea, the nomenclature came from planning the succession.


That approach was thrown out the window years ago because it meant lots of input, lots of hours of talking about who could replace whom. Yet, when he was time to replace an individual well, the structure had changed or the people we had listed were not ready and really over the years, the best practices that were created and put in place are way more about yes identifying who, but also having a talent pool for multiple positions.


The emphasis is also about managing their growth – managing the preparedness of those leaders and accelerating their development, so they are ready when there is an opening.


So, a list of names is a step in the right direction, but it is far from being enough. What we need in succession management is ready leadership, so the emphasis must be on managing a process of activities that will lead to ready leadership when we need them.

Why is succession management important, especially today?

The main reason is the aging of the population. There are other reasons, but the main one is that a lot of baby boomers are retiring, or partially retiring, or do not want to work full time in an executive role. So, organizations realize that over the next 5 years, 30-40% of their executives will either retire or leave and that represents a huge risk for them- lots of talent wisdom, experience leaving.


It’s very interesting to notice that more and more company boards will have preparing succession, not only for them but for the whole executive team, as a priority in terms of expectations for their CEO. The goal is to ensure the stability and the continuation of the organization.


Also, organizations that are growing at an extreme pace will need to prepare leaders. Finally, organizations that are making significant transitions in terms of direction or services also need to prepare for succession because some of the leaders in place may no longer be qualified.

Do we still need succession management as organization chats are becoming flatter?

If we look at the typical structure of organizations over the last 20 years, generally speaking, they are flatter than they used to be. There is less and less of Assistant VP and Assistant Director or Senior Director type of levels. Hence the gaps between the different levels are more significant.


The beauty of having an Assistant Director is that the step is smaller. It was easier to take it one step at the time and prepare well for what was coming. Where now you can see first line Leader, Director, Vice-President and then C-suite.


So the gaps between levels is now pretty big, and when you don’t proactively invest in preparing succession, you end up having unprepared leaders.


Years ago I wrote a text titled “The arrival of the unprepared”, because it is impossible to have someone ready in two weeks. You can accelerate but can’t condense leadership in a week or two. It must be done proactively.

What are the processes or stages for successful succession planning?

  1. Succession management blueprint 
  2. Define the profile of the leaders 
  3. Identify high potentials and measure their development needs 
  4. Development 
  5. Sustainment


1.Succession management blueprint

Everything can be adapted and tailored to the organization’s size and needs but the first thing we need is the succession management blueprint. It is just like if we were to build the house of our dreams, we would not start by digging right away, we’d first create a blueprint like a good architect would do.


Our blueprint must include items like:

  • What does the process look like?
  • Where do we start?
  • How much do we want to spend?
  • How do we communicate it?
  • Who will be involved?


The “where do we start” question is key because it doesn’t mean you’re starting from the top, you need to start where your organization is more at risk from a retirement or lack of succession standpoint.


In sum, blueprinting allows you to scope the planning process.


2.Define the profile of the leaders

For example, you can imagine if you would do succession planning within a mid-size, fast-growing tech company, the profile of a successful leader may be different than a hospital or a penitential institution. So, identifying the successful leader profile is the second step.


3.Identify high potentials and measure their development needs

This is where identifying high potential and producing a diagnostic of development needs is critical, and this is where a psychometric assessment comes into the picture.


But as a psychologist myself, I say we must be careful that we don’t fall in love to much with our own solutions. Because looking at knowledge and experience is also critical. What type of knowledge and experience do you need to be successful let’s say if we look at succession at the Vice President level.



That is where the investment is critical and must be done with purpose. Purposely designing, for each individual, or a small cohort, what we will do to grow those leaders from a learning standpoint, providing experience, exposure and so forth.



It takes years to prepare succession so, like anything else, when you implement it, it’s all nice and we’re all excited and you put the development plans in place, and then, if we don’t follow up, a large number of those planed activities may not happen. We need to make sure that we follow through.

What are the risks of not being proactive and preparing for succession?

There are many business risk or people risks especially when we talk about succession at the executive level. There is a risk of people are leaving, especially at the same time. Of course, we will hear people say everybody’s replaceable. Everybody’s replaceable, but if we have significant amount of people leaving and people with lots of experience in the organization, then we could really be in trouble.


About 10 years ago, you may remember a law firm called Heenan Blaikie. That firm doesn’t exist anymore. It completely disappeared and one of the critical issues was a complete lack of succession planning within the organization that caused many other ripple negative effects.


On the other hand, if you look in Canada, we have multiple banks but five large ones and they are the poster child model of preparing succession and the top. I don’t recall any CEOs in Canadian banks that were not promoted from within. They are  prepared years in advance. Companies do need a pool of people because it is quite a challenge to identify one person 10 years in advance! They need people that have sustained performance over time.


It’s also important to note that when you don’t prepare succession it can cause all sorts of people to actually leave as they feel unappreciated and develop lowered morale and engagement. Suddenly, you have the arrival of the unprepared and many companies certainly suffer from that.

How should a company go about succession management in a remote environment?

The fundamentals of succession are the same in terms of steps, but some of those practices are indeed more challenging when remote. To identify high potential leaders we always say make sure you cast a wide net, and really what that what we mean is be careful not to just look in one geographical area or department.


The head office, the largest region, or the biggest department, where there are lots of people may have some good potential leaders, but it is important not to forget smaller or more remote regions, departments, or subsidiaries.


In a remote environment it is even easier to “forget” about someone whom you don’t see or hear of regularly or do not necessarily work in close collaboration with. We need to be careful not to forget about them when casting that wide net.


The other thing that is, I would say a little bit more challenging, is when we get to the development part and trying to accelerate development.


We believe in training and formal education. But a lot of what we learn, we learn by experience. Many have heard of 70-20-10:  learning a lot by experience, then from others and finally from formal learning. So, providing opportunities and learning situations where you can help your high potentials to learn and grow by experience really needs to be done purposely.


When we don’t even meet and have the opportunities for informal interactions and invitations (ie: over lunch, in the minutes after a meeting, etc.), it becomes even more important to purposefully invite your high potentials to such things as joining a committee implementing a new IT system for example.


The fundamentals are the same, we just need to make sure we don’t forget about casting a wide net and making sure we provide exposure experience, even if we are remote.

Could you describe the 70-20-10 methodology?

70% of your Iearning comes from experience.

For example, I was never trained to work in other countries, I completely learnt that by working in Europe, Asia and so on.


About 20% of what we learn over a career we learn from others, your leader, your coach, somebody in your family, etc.


And about 10% of what you learn in your career, you learn from formal learning and training such as university, specific courses, or reading books.


So when you look at a 25 year career it’s about 70-20-10 and a message there is if we learn a lot by experience, then in order to have the highest impact in accelerating growth of high potentials the focus should be on the 70% experiential learning.


It is also great to round out the learning and send them to take, for example, a core finance course or provide a coach.


Most of the learning will be by exposing people to different situations, providing experience so they learn, but it has to be the right experience. For example, if I need to learn about finance, put me in a situation where I’m going to learn about finance. On the other hand, if you are already the director of finance, you already have that finance specialty and probably need to be exposed more to learn about sales or marketing for example.

Written by
Amanda Fleising