The SNL Succession Readiness Model


July 9, 2010

I recently heard about “succession readiness” vs. “succession planning.”  It’s an interesting twist on words to change it to a more active way of approaching your change management strategy around talent.  Instead of just planning, you are focusing on actually throwing employees into situations that make them ready for the next level.

As an almost life-long Saturday Night Live fan, I’ve seen many comedians come and go.   I was watching SNL tonight (thank goodness for my DVR) and as the opening credits rolled, it struck me that they open by listing all the “regulars”, then they follow that with their “featured” performers.  These are the up and coming performers.  I love that they actively demonstrate their succession readiness by showing us who the next generation of SNL stars will be.

Now, some will not make it because they won’t resonate with the public or they have other behind-the-scenes issues, but for the most part, we can get a little glimpse each week of the new generation of comedians and see how they are developing.  Do you remember when Will Ferrell first took the screen?  Probably not.  How about Jan Hooks, Martin Short, Chris Katan, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey?  Nope.  What you do remember is that they ended up being really successful on the show and they made it funny. We also know that they joined on as young featured performers who eventually came to be key players in the success of the show.

Here are some key takeaways from the SNL Succession Readiness model:

  • Actively feature your up-and-coming talent
  • Give them opportunities to shine in front of your clients
  • Give them opportunities to fail and learn from it “live”

The best part about how SNL handles succession is the way that they prepare us, their customers, to accept the change. They manage us all along the way and when the time comes for a big name comedian to leave, they have already made us love the person that moves from “featured” player to “regular”.  Brilliant!


  • Trish, great insight. So simple but so right on. I am very glad that someone has picked something up from one of my all-time favorite shows (I remember the first one) other than how to speak in bad Chicago accents (thank you Super Fans).

  • Your observation is SPOT ON. I can add NOTHING.

    You’re bloody brilliant!!!

    • @John- Didn’t know you were a SNL fan. So much in common.

      @Chris- Thanks!

      @Doug- Wow, you made my day. Thanks!

  • Right on, Trish. Great insight on employee development via one of my favorite shows.

    35 years. And critics said it wouldn’t survive season one.

    It’s also a testament to influential leadership — the Steve Jobs of comedy — Lorne Michaels.

  • I thought you’d appreciate the last two bullets in this list. It’s a post I ran 3 years ago on how to wreck a succession plan. The former is about keeping succession plans secret; the latter is about using the term “succession.”

    In terms of getting it right, I have a client who happens to be excellent at creating bench strength in his organization; his methods pretty closely reflect your suggestions.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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