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ATD Blog

Making the Case for Succession Planning in Healthcare

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The healthcare industry is confronted with a series of challenges that affect the management and development of its workforce. The National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL) conducted a study on the systematic failure of healthcare organizations. The finding indicated that not nearly enough attention is currently being paid to succession planning or talent management activities. Succession planning isn’t just for top executives; it is a documented talent development plan for all levels in the organization. Simply stated, succession planning is about developing future talent. Period.

Nowhere is the need for effective succession planning more pronounced than in the complex healthcare industry, where leaders face unprecedented pressure to transform their organizations so they can meet growing demands for high quality, cost-effective care and adhere to legal regulations. 

There are two forces driving more healthcare organizations to consider some form of succession planning as a component of their overall talent management strategies. Namely, these forces are 1) the aging of the workforce and 2) a shortfall in the skills possessed by those available for recruitment. What’s more, both factors are projected to become more pressing. 

In Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning, William Rothwell explains that succession planning “is perhaps best understood as any effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department, or work group by making provision for the development, replacement, and strategic application of key people over time.”


Typically part of a larger talent management program, succession planning is a comprehensive organizational key strategic process for every critical position in the organization. For the healthcare industry specifically, key talent shortages, high turnover among leaders, and attracting workers from other industries pose a great challenge. Consequently, healthcare organizations are more at risk—and need to put in place best practices related to succession planning and talent management. To delve more deeply into these issues, please join me and fellow panelists William Rothwell and Christina Barss for Session M303 “Developing a Succession Plan for Healthcare Organizations” at the ATD 2016 International Conference & Exposition.

We will discuss the changing landscape of healthcare, address the challenges of talent management programs, and moderate a discussion to build a case for a succession planning program. In addition, a facilitated activity will help attendees develop a strategy to analyze risk and build a commitment to develop a succession management plan.

About the Author

Aileen Zaballero is a senior partner at Rothwell & Associates and a dual-title PhD candidate in workforce education and development and comparative international education at The Pennsylvania State University. She is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) with more than 20 years of experience in the learning and development field. Her most recent project was developing a competency model and career map for an advanced commercial building workforce, utilizing the U.S. Department of Labor's competency model framework and aligning it with the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines. Presently, Aileen is working with IACET to develop principles to guide competency-based learning as a standard framework for quality learning and development through accreditation. In addition, her current research is a cross-cultural comparative study that aims to better understand how national culture interacts with emotional intelligence to drive performance among healthcare professionals in a multicultural environment.  Aileen authored or co-authored chapters in Performance Consulting (Wiley, 2013) and Organization Development Fundamentals (ATD Press, 2014), co-edited and co-authored Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce (Management Concepts, 2014), and co-edited The Competency Toolkit, 2nd Ed. (HRD Press, 2014).

About the Author

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CPLP Fellow, is president of Rothwell and Associates, Inc., a full-service consulting company that specializes in succession planning. He is also a professor of learning and performance in the Workforce Education and Development program, Department of Learning and Performance Systems, at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park campus. In that capacity, he heads up a top-ranked graduate program in learning and performance and is the program coordinator for the fully online Master of Professional Studies in Organization Development and Change. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited 300 books, book chapters, and articles—including 64 books. Before arriving at Penn State in 1993, he had 20 years of work experience as a training director in government and in business. As a consultant, he has worked with over 50 multinational corporations--including Motorola, General Motors, Ford, and many others. In 2004, he earned the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award at Pennsylvania State University, a single award given to the best graduate faculty member on the 23 campuses of the Penn State system. His train-the-trainers programs have won global awards.

His recent books include Organization Development Interventions: Executing Effective Organizational Change (Routledge, 2021 in press), Virtual Coaching to Improve Group Relationships (Routledge, 2021), Adult Learning Basics, 2nd ed. (Association for Talent Development Press, 2020), The Essential HR Guide for Small Business and Start Ups (Society for Human Resource Management, 2020); Increasing Learning and Development’s Impact Through Accreditation (Palgrave, 2020); Workforce Development: Guidelines for Community College Professionals, 2nd ed. (Rowman-Littlefield, 2020); Human Performance Improvement: Building Practitioner Performance, 3rd ed. (Routledge, 2018); Innovation Leadership (Routledge, 2018); Evaluating Organization Development: How to Ensure and Sustain the Successful Transformation (CRC Press, 2017); Marketing Organization Development Consulting: A How-To Guide for OD Consultants (CRC Press, 2017); and, Assessment and Diagnosis for Organization Development: Powerful Tools and Perspectives for the OD practitioner (CRC Press, 2017), Community College Leaders on Workforce Development (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), Organization Development in Practice (ODNetwork, 2016), Mastering the Instructional Design Process, 5th ed. (Wiley, 2016), Practicing Organization Development, 4th ed. (Wiley, 2015), Effective Succession Planning, 5th ed. (AMACOM, 2015), The Competency Toolkit, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), Beyond Training and Development, 3rd ed. (HRD Press, 2015), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (McGraw-Hill, 2015), Organization Development Fundamentals (ATD, 2015), Creating Engaged Employees: It’s Worth the Investment (ATD Press, 2014), The Leader’s Daily Role in Talent Management (Institute for Training and Development [Malaysia], 2014), Optimizing Talent in the Federal Workforce (Management Concepts, 2014), Performance Consulting (Wiley, 2014), the ASTD Competency Study: The Training and Development Profession Redefined (ASTD, 2013), Becoming An Effective Mentoring Leader: Proven Strategies for Building Excellence in Your Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2013), Talent Management: A Step-by-Step Action-Oriented Approach Based on Best Practice (HRD Press, 2012), the edited three-volume Encyclopedia of Human Resource Management (Wiley, 2012), Lean But Agile: Rethink Workforce Planning and Gain a True Competitive Advantage (Amacom, 2012), Invaluable Knowledge: Securing Your Company’s Technical Expertise-Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent, Transferring Technical Knowledge, Engaging High Performers (Amacom, 2011), Competency-Based Training Basics (ASTD Press, 2010), Practicing Organization Development, 3rd ed. (Pfeiffer, 2009), Basics of Adult Learning (ASTD, 2009), HR Transformation (Davies-Black, 2008), Working Longer (Amacom, 2008), and Cases in Government Succession Planning: Action-Oriented Strategies for Public-Sector Human Capital Management, Workforce Planning, Succession Planning, and Talent Management (HRD Press, 2008).

He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 814-863-2581. He is at 310B Keller Building, University Park, PA 16803. See his website at, his videos on YouTube, and his wiki site at

About the Author

Dr. Christina Barss is an experienced industry subject matter expert (SME) in improvement sciences and organizational culture change. Her unique blend of practical, academic, and art perspectives creates custom operational and employee engagement solutions that transform the bottom line. For example, her PhD in sustainable systems design focused on disparately located interprofessional teams in transition during lean transformation at a large, midwestern, urban, academic medical center.

Dr. Barss' 12 years in healthcare were filled leading strategic enterprise-level initiatives to improve patient safety, quality, service, and innovation as well as teaching and coaching executives. From C-suite to frontline, she connects seamlessly and guides others in building trust bridges. Her continuous improvement science foundation began in the manufacturing industry. She presents nationally and internationally on design thinking, change management, organizational culture, corporate learning, executive education, and succession planning.

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