Succession Planning: Why We Don’t / 3 Reasons We Should

“I can do succession planning, but I am not going anywhere.”  These words were spoken to me by a senior leader 4 years ago.  A year after he said these words his job changed and he switched divisions.  More recently he left the organization for another role.  He was good with numbers, but not great at predicting the future.  Then again, who really is?

I added succession planning to the Talent Scorecard because it is a critical area to address in a talent management strategy within an organization.  However, it is not as important as performance conversations / one on ones / development plans.  Here is a link to trU Tips #11 where I introduced the scorecard and the online version I created for people to evaluate their own situation.

Single biggest barrier to succession planning: Our discomfort with the question “What is the plan after I am gone?”.  Talking about our mortality is uncomfortable and avoided.   Want proof?  How about the number only 45% of Americans have a will – which is the succession plan for an individual.  As it turns out, corporate succession plans must be more uncomfortable because only 35% of organization have a succession plan for their CEO.

Succession planning is not about us (ie: Our ego, power, wealth) – it is about others.  So here are three reasons to do it:

  1. It is part of being a leader: The ability to face a difficult situations and help a team work through it is a critical part of leadership.  Succession planning is about leadership.
  2. It says “You are more important than me” – the ultimate trust building action: Does this need more explanation?  Look at Jim Collins level 5 leader description in Good to Great.  There are lots of benefits for people feeling and SEEING this – email me if you want a list.
  3. It builds the same courage in others: What CEO would argue that it is not important to have plans for the most critical people and most critical roles in their organization?  The CEO going first removes one BIG excuse from the list other leaders will have not wanting to do it.

Much of talent management and the activities/processes that go with it fall under the description of simple, but not easy.

A parenting expert once gave me a line in response to a child telling me something is too hard.  The response.  Yes, it is hard.  But we can do hard. I think that same line fits with succession planning.  If we want people around us that do not shrink away from hard, then we need to be willing to go first.

What are some barriers you have experienced or compelling reasons you have used that you would add to this list?

2 thoughts on “Succession Planning: Why We Don’t / 3 Reasons We Should

  1. Another compelling reason is that if you care about the organization where you lead, and are not just using it, then you want it to go on being excellent. If the company/group is a cause worth preserving for customers and partners, then it’s wise to plan & prepare beyond your own tenure. To not do so leaves the organization weaker, not better.

  2. Thanks for the comment Dave. I like your use of the word care. I find the constant challenge in any of these areas of leadership that are described by how we feel or make others feel is translating those to actions. Maybe a better title would be: CARING about your organization = Succession Planning. Your comment made me think – thanks for sharing.

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