3 reasons why succession planning fails and what you can do about it

Written by Connie Gentry, Consulting Associate

Succession planning is often viewed like many people view sorting through their sock drawer to try and find the missing match. Which ones have holes in them and need to be thrown out? Or is it best to just go out and buy some new socks?

Just like sock sorting, succession planning can be a tedious process. Many organizations struggle to get their succession plans right or even make the progress they want to make. When faced with the need to evaluate your organization’s succession plans, consider the following three reasons why succession planning fails, and what you can do to avoid making these missteps.

1. Lack of support from the executive level

Nothing can sink a succession plan faster than a lack of support and buy-in from the C-Suite. HR and management can lay the best plans, but if the executive level does not support and reinforce the necessary steps to implement the vision, it is all but moot. There are however some things that you can consider to be preemptive about gaining buy-in for your proposed succession plans.

  • Come prepared to specifically outline the benefit and value-add of investing in the training necessary to have a successful succession plan in place.
  • Summarize the necessary steps. Specifically, what level of support and involvement are you expecting from each of the executive leaders?
  • Tie the succession planning objectives to measurable metrics or competencies by level; do those you have identified as a high potential possess those competencies, or where do they fall in regard to the next level?

2. Making assumptions about an individual’s skills, interests, and abilities

Another common mistake is when management makes assumptions about the interest level, skills, and abilities of those whom they have identified as a high potential employee to take to the next level.

  • Have you discussed your perceptions with them and gained their buy-in?
  • What have you done to genuinely help set them up for success by evaluating their skills and abilities, both at their current level and the next?
  • Remember, just because an employee may be good at his or her current job and stands out as a star performer, that does not mean that they will make a good future leader.

3. Lack of training and development for high potential employees

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things that can derail a potentially successful succession plan is to drop the ball on implementing the training component of the equation. You may have an organization with strong support from your executive team and have appropriately and definitively identified those with the skills, interests, and abilities to move up in the organization, but then fall short when it comes to providing them with the level of training and leadership development needed to make it happen. Training should also be specific and targeted, not generic and all encompassing.

  • Have you identified a set of core competencies on which to structure this individual’s training and development?
  • How easy is the process to implement and manage?
  • Are the results meaningful and allow for a clear understanding of how to take things to the next level?

What can your organization do to avoid these succession planning pitfalls?

Now that you have given some thought to the reasons why successions planning fails, the next step is to make a plan to avoid these pitfalls.

One objective that lends well to addressing all three of these areas is developmental assessments of your current workforce.

Assessment for development and succession planning

Companies do it all of the time for selection purposes, but formal assessments for the purpose of learning and development is often overlooked or much lower on the budget priority list. Too often, the decision of who is truly considered a high potential employee is based solely on a supervisor’s subjective input or the interest expressed by the individual seeking upward progression.

By identifying and implementing an assessment process tied to specific competencies and skill levels, you are providing your organization’s leadership with the tools necessary to establish standardized, objective measures by which to evaluate any strengths and opportunities for those high potentials you are targeting for future promotion.

Gaining buy-in from executives, taking the time to identify high potential candidates, and then assessing to determine strengths and developmental areas should help your organization find the ‘missing sock’ in your sock drawer.

Identifying and selecting high potentials

We are facing a talent war.

Great leaders are hard to find and even harder to retain in a competitive global economy.

Now more than ever, identifying, developing, and engaging high potentials is an important part of every successful organization’s talent strategy. They know that their culture is driven by their leaders and they also know that high performing leaders can be associated with all sorts of positive outcomes (e.g., increased retention of staff, higher employee engagement scores).

Download our whitepaper to find out:

  • What are indicators of potential?
  • How to identify and assess for potential
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