What NOT to Do When Planning for Succession

Al Schnur
by Al Schnur

Al has personally conducted more than 5,000 high-level evaluations during his career, and is particularly proud that more than 250,000 candidates have participated in assessment programs he designed. At present, Al focuses on C-level succession planning and assessment in support of CEOs, Boards and other high-level stakeholders.

Leaders won’t simply spontaneously sprout up in your organization like weeds in a vacant lot.

Developing leaders is like tending to a garden—you’ll need to till the soil, plant seeds, and fertilize and water plants to yield a fruitful harvest.

Leadership development starts with planning for succession long before the need arises—and requires putting in the time, energy and resources to make sure your effort is worth it.

It also means avoiding some common mistakes to keep your crop from dying on the vine. When planning for succession, don’t…

1. Be Too Subjective

It’s tempting for executives to use the mirror approach when making succession plans. They want someone who looks, thinks and acts the way they do.

But this isn’t an effective way to measure a person’s true leadership potential. Leadership assessments should look for definable qualities shared by effective leaders.

How does a candidate communicate with others? What motivates them? What kind of influence do they exert on team members? How have they performed when given added responsibilities? Answers to these types of questions can shine light on a person’s true abilities.

2. Fail to Assess for Leadership Potential

Looking at how a candidate fits future needs should be a primary consideration in succession planning. A narrow focus can empty out your leadership pipeline, leaving your organization with someone who is not equipped to take on a broader leadership role.

Organizations should always audit their leadership pool for potential. This means learning how many leaders-to-be you have, determining how many you need, and then filling up the ranks with the right talent so that your “well” never runs dry.

3. Focus Too Much On the Present

Someone who’s a good fit for a particular role does not always function well when given a different one. That’s the danger in focusing too much on filling present needs. Doing so can leave you ill equipped down the line.

Your efforts at planning for succession should always be built around identifying high-potential candidates who possess strengths that align with the direction of future growth. Their background, experience and skill set should be a package that can position them, and your organization, to better meet anticipated challenges down the road.

4. Put It Off Until Later

Organizations should never look at succession planning as something to worry about later. Things can change overnight. Without a robust succession plan in place, an organization can be left reeling by an unexpected retirement or resignation.

Make planning for succession a priority even if it isn’t immediately needed. Identifying your leadership needs ahead of time can make it easier to take a high-potential employee, evaluate their strengths and mentor or train them to fit into the leadership role where they will be needed at a later time. Proper planning will also give you more time to evaluate your leadership pool and make sure it’s healthy. 

Planning for Succession Matters

Assessing potential leaders and preparing for succession now sets your organization up for sustainable growth. Succession planning isn’t just a nice idea—it’s a crucial element for any company that wants success to last past the exit of a single dynamic leader.

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