Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How to Identify Key Positions in Your Organization

How to Identify Key Positions in Your Organization

Alignment solution: Step one in developing a succession process is identifying the key positions throughout your organization, not just those at the top.

One of the persistent myths about succession planning is that it should address only positions at the executive level. In fact, there are key positions throughout the organization, which I define as those that represent critical jobs, functions, skills, and/or competencies. Think about it: unless your organization is comprised of all volunteers, how many of your employees would come to work every day if they didn’t get paid? Thus payroll is a critical function. Who knew that the payroll clerk is a VIP in your organization?

Identifying the key positions in your organization is like triaging victims after an accident: emergency personnel prioritize their injuries against pre-defined criteria, then treat them in order of most to least critical. Although setting up an organizational triage process takes some time, and usually much soul-searching, the result is that you know exactly how and where to prioritize your efforts and direct your resources – i.e., on the positions that would leave the organization most vulnerable if they are not filled with capable staff.

Here are the three organizational triage categories for identifying key positions. They are defined according to their impact on the organization’s survivability – i.e., its ability to achieve its mission:

Category Impact on the organization’s mission
Critical Cannot fulfill mission if missing
Very important Signficant negative impact if missing
Important Diminished level of performance if missing

For each position, function, skill, and competency, ask and answer TRUTHFULLY the following set of questions. What is the impact on our mission if we:

  • Don’t fill the position?
  • Delay filling the position?
  • Omit some aspects of the position?
  • Reduce the qualifications of the position?

Insist on very specific answers: “we’d go out of business” is not acceptable. Truthful and realistic responses collectively will enable you to prioritize each position. Assess all positions, functions, skills, and competencies using the above process. The assumption is that every position must be at least important to achieving the mission. If you find any that are not, ask yourself why they are there? How can you justify their existence? The result will be a prioritized list of positions throughout the organization. For succession planning purposes, you have a clear picture of your vulnerabilities and where you must focus your efforts and resources.

Just as is the case during an emergency, the first responders’ work is not done when they have made their initial assessments. They must TAKE ACTION based on their findings. Just as they wouldn’t think of leaving victims at the scene of the accident or emergency, so you too must take action to address your organization’s known vulnerabilities.

To read about this organizational triage process in slightly more detail and from a resource allocation process, take a look at my article Guidelines for Allocating Scarce Resources.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How to Identify Key Positions in Your Organization”

  1. Mohammad says:

    hello Dr Pat Lynch.
    i read your article it is very useful and clear me the way of ” identify key positions”. but for me it’s a little unclear to identify that precisely. i mean “the three organizational triage categories for identifying key positions” that you say is not very practical way. so, please help me more to identify my company”s key position.
    i look forward to hearing from you.

    thank you a lot.

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