In this year’s Human Capital Trends Report by Deloitte, insights from the executives who responded align with why we believe we need to reframe succession planning.


  • 90% rated building the organization of the future as one of the most important challenges
  • Over 80% stress learning as critical to skills central to the 21st-century organization


The question we asked ourselves is how do we put the “success” back in succession planning, knowing we need push the boundaries of traditional leadership hierarchies and approaches to succession planning, empowering a new breed of leaders who are part of a pool of multi-disciplinarians (referred to as neo-generalists) who can adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

Rewriting the definition of success

In an age of disruption, we in HR have the most leverage in supporting the business by helping them rewrite the rules for succession planning and redefine how we think about success in this new era. One way to do this is through the use of success profiles.

Many competency models have not been able to keep abreast of the changes needed to keep pace with the more digital, global, diverse, automated, and social media savvy world in which we operate—and that’s all before we think about the increasing business expectations, needs, and demands. These times call for what are often described in the world of complexity and chaos theory as “minimum specs”—a proven way to cope with rapid change, while also moving forward.

Rather than let these competency models become redundant we suggest that rewriting them to reflect “minimum specs” is the best way to support the change that is needed. We call these “minimum specs” a success profile.

What are the steps to writing a success profile for the VUCA world?

  1. Understand the target role – what are the roles that will be pivotal to business transformation and who best knows what will be required?
  2. Interview those who can see around the corner and are able to articulate what will be needed. These may be the exemplars who are already performing in ways that support the transformation or leaders who anticipate it
  3. Craft a succinct summary that includes elements central to identifying future talent:
  • Past results and pivot experiences
  • Future capabilities
  • Indicators of versatility
  • Learning Agility


In our experience, these success profiles can serve as a critical manifesto of new expectations in the VUCA world. They are best written for the business, by the business, in a way that cuts through HR lingo.

Once created they serve as a North Star and reference point of evolving standards. This is the foundation for reimagining succession planning and building a bench that’s ready for key roles across the organization.

Just shifting mindset from a pipeline of a few ready now successors to a pool of talent that meets the “minimum specs” is one way to put success back in succession planning and to break barriers that enable us to cultivate an emerging, diverse set of leaders for tomorrow’s unchartered territory.

-Anita Bhasin

Anita is the founder and CEO of Sage Ways. Connect with Anita at to share your views about success profiles. Click here to learn about more ways to put success back in succession planning.