There are eight principles that successful leadership transition plans tend to have in common

With Boomers reaching retirement age and a wave of practitioners lost to the Great Recession, many leaders are concerned about who will succeed them in guiding firms and the profession. For the next several years increasing numbers of firms will face the challenge of replacing key leaders and positioning themselves for future success.

Every organization has a unique culture and situation that requires a customized succession plan. However, there are eight principles that successful leadership transition plans tend to have in common:

1. It stems from the organization’s overall strategic plan.

A succession plan is inherently focused on the future; consequently, the plan should capture the talent resources the firm will need for where it wants to go, rather than where it is today.

2. Change and continuity are in balance.

Adapting to rapid and continual shifts in the marketplace and profession requires a willingness to reinvent. However, most organizations resist change. Current and emerging leaders must maintain a delicate balance between inspiring change, maintaining staff motivation and engagement, and preserving the postitive cultural attributes that give the firm its core identity.

3. Key leaders are aligned.

In times of change, staff will look to leaders for cues on how to interpret changes like leadership transition. Misalignment of key leaders will exacerbate the normal diversity of opinion about change and can jeopardize the consensus needed to build a strong future leadership team and firm.

4. The plan has full commitment and resources.

Leadership transition is a learning process. Sometimes future leaders will make great strides forward and sometimes progress more slowly; occasionally they will stumble. A well- designed plan requires a commitment of time on the part of current leaders and those who will take their place, which can require significant non-billable hours. The firm must invest in supplemental training to develop the strengths and shore up the weaknesses of candidates for future leadership. Lastly, the firm must devote the resources needed to communicate the plan in order to mobilize people to implement it.

5. It is flexible and allows for staged progression.

Successful plans balance opportunities to test out solutions in an environment of safe failure with appropriate challenges that stretch the capabilities of emerging leaders.

6. Progress can be measured.

Current leaders should have concrete benchmarks with which to measure the progress of the overall plan. Individual emerging leaders need concrete feedback on their progress in order to orient themselves along their path, building confidence or correcting course as the situation requires.

7. The plan is comprehensive.

Transition plans involve firm-wide issues like organizational design as well as building the skills of individuals. Successful efforts focus simultaneously on the macro and the micro. Comprehensive plans also account for transitioning client relationships, which are frequently maintained by the most senior leaders in firms.

8. Preparation is continual.

Because it involves growing characteristics like judgment, experience and wisdom, leadership development requires time. In order to ensure a steady supply of well-prepared leaders, a successful plan focuses not only on the next generation of leaders, but also on subsequent generations who have significant potential.

A strong plan, based in the eight principles and customized to the specific character and needs of an organization, can present a clearer path through a challenge faced by firms of all sizes.

Bob Fisher is a contributing editor to DesignIntelligence.