How to Develop, Build and Execute An Effective Succession Plan – Part 3.

Earlier we discussed the guiding principles behind an effective succession planning model. Then we addressed characteristics critical inside healthy models. These are the factors that need addressed or that need to be in place to support effective leadership development.

Today, we address common model pitfalls. After working with leading global organizations on succession strategy, we have identified a usual set of factors that contribute most often to a model’s ineffectiveness.

  • Lacking a formal plan for each position. Believing that all leaders are interchangable is common corporate fallacy. Although many leaders succeed when they move to different functions, some fail. Interchangeability is not certain. To reduce the likelihood of failure, organizations should prepare a clear succession plan for each position and specify the level of experience necessary for promotion. Too often, companies prepare succession plans by targeting high-potential individuals and assuming their success into any number of senior level vacancies as needed.
  • Being too rigid and inflexible. Business environments, technology, and competitors change constantly. Therefore, succession plans need to be designed with flexibility in mind. Plans should be able to adapt to strategic changes both internal and external to the business environment. This, of course, requires regular position plan and bench strength review to assess the ability to maintain flexibility.
  • Waiting too long for promotion. High-potential employees get irritated if they do not see a reward in their future. If those in the succession pipeline are ultimately passed up, but remain strong pipeline candidates, companies should ensure that they are offered additional variety within their existing roles or opportunities to expand their skills and experience.

Effective succession planning minimizes the exits or departures of those who need further development

  • Taking a superficial approach. Sometimes the term “succession management pipeline” refers more to an organization’s closet rather than leadership development engine; once you enter, you never come out. In other instances, succession management programs exist but there is no commitment from the organization to actually select talent from the candidate pool. They default to external hires. Corporate buy-in, from the board to executives to middle management, is essential.
  • Selecting unmotivated or unqualified people. If organizations do not make a commitment to select the best candidates for a position, frustration will ensue. The consequence can be disastrous for an organization: mediocre talent ascends, or leapfrogs, other worthwhile candidates based on perceived biases, favoritism or office politics. Superb talent leaves and general trust in succession management is eroded.

Effective succession management can help transform organizations from ordinary to extraordinary. Building the model forces critical exercises around planning for the company’s strategic future, defining the requirements of future leadership roles and preparing for ongoing, upleveling of existing talent.

By building a model that avoids the pitfalls addressed above, companies can improve the odds of a succession planning model delivering senior talent capable of leading the organization toward a successful future.