Why Leadership Succession Planning Often Fails

Why Leadership Succession Planning Often Fails
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Unfortunately, Leadership Succession Planning Often Fails to Meet Expectations
While most leaders know that they should develop a leadership pipeline, leadership succession planning often fails to make a measurable impact. Our organizational alignment research found that having the right leaders in the right roles at the right time accounts for 29% of the difference between high and low performing organizations. Yet recent research at Deloitte found that only 14% of leaders believe that leadership succession planning is done well at their organizations.

Why is that?

The Challenges of Getting Leadership Succession Planning Right
Okay, leadership succession planning is difficult to do right — for multiple reasons. Here are just a few from a leader’s point of view:

  • Leadership Succession Planning Accountability and Investments Are Unclear
    Most believe that the primary responsibility for leadership succession should rest with the Board of Directors and the CEO.  But most organizations have not clarified who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the organization has the depth and breadth of leaders needed to accomplish its most critical strategic priorities over the long term.  Getting succession planning right takes a lot of dedicated time, effort, resources.

    Sadly, Korn Ferry found that while 90% of organizations rate succession planning as important, only 37% invest in resources necessary for it to be successful.  Most companies have wide gaps between their succession planning aspirations and realties.  For people-driven companies, closing those leadership gaps should be a strategic priority.
    Does your talent management strategy make it clear who is ultimately responsible for leadership succession planning and invest accordingly?

  • Current Leaders Are Not Secure Enough to Support the Process
    Some executives view succession planning as a threat to their position and status in the company — especially if they have no current intention of moving on.  It is your job to do what it takes to help leaders feel secure enough to not resist having a quality bench of leaders at the ready.  For high potential candidates to be ready to lead, they need the full support and engagement of leadership.

    Are your leaders willing and able to support leadership succession planning?
  • Short-Term Pressures Take Precedence  
    Proactive and disciplined succession planning takes time, effort, and investment. Most clients report immense pressure from their Board and CEO to pay more attention to short-term performance and tactics than to longer-term initiatives.  This creates half-hearted and reactive approaches to leadership succession that focus more on emergency leadership replacement than leadership succession planning.

    Does everyone agree that the existing hierarchy of leaders isn’t enough when compared to immediate strategic priorities?

A Recommended Leadership Succession Planning Approach
The approach to succession planning that actually works combines change management best practices with objective leadership simulation assessment data on leadership readiness, performance, potential, motivation, learning agility, skill gaps, and bench strength.  Use the following Leadership Succession Planning best practices as a guide to succession planning that works:

  1. Create Clear Ownership and Sponsorship
    While a combination of executives and HR will need to be involved along the way, identify who is ultimately accountable for succession planning.  Then establish the necessary goals, roles, success metrics, and processes to set them up for success.  Without a clear project sponsor with the requisite skills, influence, and motivation, your chances for success are slim.

    Have you clearly established who has succession planning accountability?

  2. Use Evidence-based Data to Assess and Develop Leaders
    Whenever possible use a research-backed leadership simulation assessment approach that is fair, objective, and evidence-based to remove unconscious bias and personal preference from the leadership succession process.  Far too many companies rely on unproven, subjective, and unfair approaches to assess, identify, develop, and promote high potentials into key leadership roles.  This leads to employee disengagement, frustration, and, in the worst case scenarios, lawsuits.

    Can you accurately assess what candidates in your succession planning pipeline need to be ready to step up for your unique situation?

  3. Agree Upon How to Measure Progress
    Just as most weight loss programs are more successful when people focus on short-term milestones and habits, long-term leadership succession planning programs can benefit from chunking up the journey into visible short-term milestones that align with current strategic priorities.  For example, we like to embed succession planning into action learning leadership development programs focused on executing key business strategies which includes one-on-one coaching and individual development plans to balance the short- and long-term needs while creating buy-in and momentum.

    Have you defined enough meaningful and visible milestones along your leadership succession planning journey?

  4. Co-create a Transparent Process
    Unfortunately, the most common terms we hear to describe a company’s leadership succession process are “mysterious,” “unfair,” and “political.”  As with any change initiative, honesty, transparency, and clarity are required to create the level of trust and engagement required to identify and develop the next set of leaders.  Distrust in the selection or promotion process will derail the best laid plans.

    Actively involve key stakeholders from the beginning to ensure enough motivation for leaders to fully engage in and commit to the succession process. Let them help design it in a way that works for them AND the business.  Whenever possible, give them meaningful incentives in terms of their own careers to developing, not just naming, their successors.

    Do you have enough workplace transparency for your leadership succession process to foster the behaviors you need to develop your leadership bench strength?

  5. Anticipate and Plan for Future Leadership Needs
    Succession planning Mistake 101 is solely focusing on existing roles and current needs.  Gartner research found that planning for future leadership roles has almost twice the impact on leadership bench strength as planning for existing leadership roles.  Invest the time to consider evolving business needs, industry trends, corporate aspirations, and potential future roles/skills.

    Are you planning enough for the kind of leadership required in the future?

The Bottom Line
Though it’s recognized as a process critical for continued growth, succession planning often takes a back seat to current issues. Are you ready to set up the discipline required to build your next set of leaders?

To learn more about why leadership succession planning often fails, download Succession Planning Traps to Avoid for HiPo’s

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