(un)Success(ful)ion Planning


Volumes have been written over the years about the perils of short-sighted leadership development, succession planning & management, and building up “bench strength” within organizations (VOLUMES!). It’s no secret: if you want to ensure organizational success in ANY enterprise, you need to ensure that you’ve identified and developed successors to step into vital roles when called upon.

The “bench strength” metaphor is so illustrative because it makes the concept even more simple to digest: the players on your bench need to be just as trained and developed as your starters so that a coach can insert them into the game when necessary. Still, one of the most elementary and fundamental tenets of talent development and leadership often goes unrepentantly ignored…and recent research suggests that future isn’t much brighter.

Talent Management Magazine recently published key findings on succession planning from their Executive Research Board (point of disclosure: I’m a member of the Advisory Board and have contributed to their research for the past 2 years). In 2015 Succession Planning, we learned (bold emphasis added by me):

  • 76 percent of respondents report that their organizations look outside to fills gaps in leadership pipeline to gain a particular expertise.
  • According to 52 percent of survey takers, the most important quality in a succession candidate is that they show a strong ability to grow and succeed.
  • 60 percent of respondents report that their organization has too few candidates for organizational needs.

Am I the only one who thinks that points 1 and 3 negate the 2nd point? One could argue that continually looking outside of the organization for expertise (i.e. not giving internal talent the tools to develop and succeed) begets the lack of qualified candidates for future needs.

I’m no Vaunted Oracle on the subject of succession planning or leadership development. Sure, I’ve written about retention (here and here), engagement, and the importance of developing others – but these are concepts that should be elementary when discussing sustained group success.

I am, however, a simplistic realist who understands a fact that the research illustrates: If you don’t train and develop the resources you already have, you’ll lose them…and you’ll have a more difficult time securing additional resources to fill those gaps.


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