1. Graystone, Rebecca MS, MBA, RN, NE-BC


Succession planning is an important business strategy in many industries, but healthcare has been slow to recognize its value. In this month's Magnet Perspectives column, learn why succession planning and mentoring are critical for nursing, how they affect key outcomes, and who benefits from preparing the next generation of nurses. Chief nursing officers discuss the importance of identifying and grooming top talent and share their personal stories of how succession planning and mentoring impacted their careers. The column includes tips to create a succession planning program and explores how the Magnet(R) environment promotes a culture of mentoring and leadership continuity.


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Rising patient acuity, a global nursing shortage, and increased calls for nurses to lead healthcare transformation make succession planning imperative in today's volatile environment.1 Immediate action is necessary to prepare a new generation of nurse leaders.

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Succession planning is a structured process that incorporates the identification, recruitment, retention, development, and mentoring of high-performing nurses with leadership potential.2 It not only ensures a diverse pipeline of top talent, but also plays a significant role in priming nurses to drive innovation, improve quality and outcomes, and advance healthcare delivery across America.


The practice of succession planning is standard in many industries, yet healthcare-and nursing in particular-has been slow to adopt it. Successful programs focus on increased mentoring and support, greater education and training opportunities, and development of skills such as vision, communication, and the ability to direct interprofessional teams.3 The most effective succession plans are incremental, affording nurses at all levels the opportunity to grow.4


The Right Support at the Right Time

LeighAnn Sidone, MSN, RN, CENP, vice president and chief nursing officer (CNO) at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, says both mentoring and succession planning have been critical to her career advancement. She joined the hospital as a technician more than 25 years ago and rose through the ranks to her current role. Like many nurses, she was tagged as a "great clinician" but found herself in leadership roles without any real experience. "I was blessed to be mentored by great nurse leaders as I moved up," she says. "The CNO role is a uniquely challenging role to prepare for. I was fortunate to have a president who had been CNO and could help mentor and guide a thoughtful succession plan."


Sidone points out that good mentors not only prepare nurses for their next adventure but also help them map out a plan to move forward. As CNO, she has seen more frontline nurses interested in leadership roles, especially among the Millennial and Gen X populations. Suburban Hospital started a clinical leader fellowship that gives these nurses support as they explore their options.


"Ongoing, regular conversations with nurses at all levels are crucial to successful mentorship and succession planning," she says. "Engaging in dialogue conveys a genuine interest in staff growth and relationship building, allowing for thoughtful planning and exploration into new experiences."


Lifelong Guidance and Advice

Throughout her career, Stacey Brull, DNP, RN, NE-BC, was fortunate to have many mentors to turn to for guidance. One of the best pieces of advice she received in her 1st job was to pursue her master's degree. "It was free through the hospital's tuition assistance program, so my mentor basically said I'd be foolish not to go for it." Later, she worked for a nurse entrepreneur who gave her invaluable insight into the world of business and education.


Now senior director of Education, Research & Magnet(R) and interim CNO at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Dr Brull continues to tap into the wisdom of former and current mentors. "Having a strong operational mentor to navigate the current healthcare environment has been paramount for me, especially with everything changing at such a rapid speed," she says. "Succession planning is equally important. With new regulations, standards, and payment systems, you need to be grooming other people as you continue to grow."


Paula Coe, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, vice president, Nursing Education and Professional Practice at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, agrees. "The constant state of high acuity and technology means nurses must be equipped with the knowledge, skill, and ability to lead effectively and show staff the importance of how their professional practice translates to outcomes," she says. Dr Coe believes formal and informal succession planning is imperative for organizations to "grow their own" staff with a sense of commitment. Throughout her 29-year nursing career, she has both mentored and been mentored. "I've learned and grown as much as a mentor as I did when I was being mentored," she says.


The Magnet Advantage

Magnet's focus on professional development, continuing education, certification, and knowledge sharing promotes a culture of mentoring and succession planning. As Dr Brull points out, nurses who work in Magnet hospitals tend to have more opportunities to grow and more mentors to help them along their journey.


Dr Coe believes the Magnet environment provides an infrastructure to hardwire succession planning into all practice areas. It also gives nurses at every level a voice, making it easier to identify and cultivate high performers.


For Magnet organizations and those seeking the credential, regular attention to both mentoring and succession planning is key. As outlined in the 2019 Magnet Application Manual, The CNO Advocates for Organizational Support of Ongoing Leadership Development for All Nurses, With a Focus on Mentoring and Succession Planning. Magnet organizations must present evidence of mentoring encounters (whether formal or informal) for all nurses-from clinical RNs to the CNO.


Transparency Boosts Retention and Recruitment

Succession planning not only prepares your organization for the future, but also helps retain high-quality talent in the present. Nurses who know they have the opportunity to reach their full potential are less likely to leave and more likely to join your team.


Experts offer these tips to create a succession planning program:


* identify leadership positions with high vacancy and turnover rates,


* define role expectations, competencies, and developmental milestones,


* develop methods to identify internal talent, and


* pair high-performing nurses with mentors.



As you develop your program, be sure to document the process at every level. You'll be rewarded with a high-quality cadre of exceptional nurses ready to step forward and lead the future of nursing and the future of healthcare. It's never too early to start!




1. National Academy of Medicine. Accessed May 16, 2019. [Context Link]


2. Turner P. Linking Leadership and Succession Planning: Delivering Organisational Transformation and Operational Excellence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2018:233-262. [Context Link]


3. Turner P. Talent Management in Healthcare: Exploring How the World's Health Service Organisations Attract, Manage and Develop Talent. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2018:157-187. [Context Link]


4. Thompson P. New generation leaders: the future for nursing and midwifery. J Nurs Manag. 2016;24(3):273-274. [Context Link]