Lots of Succession Planning Talk....Not Enough Action

2 min read
June 1, 2011

succession planningRecent survey research on succession planning conducted by Right Management indicates that significant gaps in leadership pipelines exist at most organizations in North America.  A survey of over 1200 executives conducted in March, 2011 indicates that few organizations reported having future leaders identified for all of their critical positions.

Do you have future leaders identified for critical roles in your organization?

Yes, for all critical roles 6%
Yes, for most but not all critical roles 17%
Yes, for some critical roles 
No, not for any critical roles 22%

In addition, executives were asked if there had been a recent change to their company’s approach to succession planning.  57% said succession planning had become a higher priority, 17% said it was made a lower priority, and the rest said there had been no change in priority. 

Given my experience and on-going discussions with executives and other senior HR leaders, these two findings are not surprising and they continue to reinforce my concern for the future of leadership in organizations.  The business case for succession planning has never been stronger and companies are making it a priority – more than half of the companies in this study.  Nonetheless, the results are not there.  Lots of discussion.  Not enough action.

Getting started with succession planning can be overwhelming but it does need to be so daunting.  In my observation, the two most common causes for lack of action seem to be related to “lots of thinking and talking and not enough doing”. For example:

  • Spending a great deal of time trying to perfect the succession planning process, overlying focusing on a specific aspect or continually asking for input, and never getting around to executing. 
  • Viewing the implementation of succession planning as a change management challenge that needs to be managed with great precision.

I encourage organizations to make succession planning an evolutionary process. If succession planning is a priority then action is required.  As HR leaders, we can help to guide the organization in the right direction – applying effective practices AND making sure that results are achieved.

  • Paint a long-term picture of succession planning that is aligned with organizational strategy
  • Set short-term and long-term goals
  • Utilize technology to integrate critical talent data and support decision making
  • Create execution plans that build on each other
  • Highlight the outcomes achieved through each stage of the evolutionary process



Read more about the Right Management survey findings.

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