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The Top 8 Succession Planning Mistakes Companies Make

The Top 8 Succession Planning Mistakes Companies Make

March 2023


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Succession planning, while essential, can be a tricky process for any company.

We all know the most common mistake is electing the wrong successor. However, there are numerous ways in which the succession planning process can go awry, negatively impacting your business. Here at Stanton Chase, we have been a partner in leadership for top companies since 1990, and we have seen it all.

In this article, we will outline the top eight most damaging succession planning mistakes companies can make when they take a do-it-yourself approach.

1. Not Engaging in C-Level and Board Succession Planning at All

Some businesses make the mistake of neglecting succession planning for crucial organizational positions. This can lead to a severe lack of qualified candidates to replace key employees, which can have a substantial impact on the company’s operations and bottom line. This is an essential activity for the C-Suite, the CEO, the Board of Directors, and even the Chairman. Lack of proper succession planning for these positions can have a significant impact on the operational and financial performance of the business.

2. Relying on familiarity and your network

One of the most common mistakes we see is companies electing successors based on their CEO’s familiarity and network. We have all heard stories of a CEO appointing their friend, family member, or college friend, only to realize that they are not fit for the role. It is essential to craft the succession bench based on the skills evaluation and ideal leader profile of the position, rather than nepotism. A candidate’s previous experience, competencies, and fit with the company’s culture and existing leadership style should be considered.

3. Choosing individuals based on their current role performance

Another common mistake is selecting successors based solely on their current role performance. A candidate who excels in one position may not necessarily perform well in another role. When selecting successors, it is crucial to evaluate them thoroughly to ensure that their experience and competencies align with the C-level position they are being considered for. Competency assessments and skills evaluations can help identify the right candidate for the role.

4. Thinking of succession planning only when a leadership role needs to be filled

Succession planning should be an evergreen process that companies continuously discuss, even when there are no impending C-suite departures. Waiting until a leadership role needs to be filled unexpectedly can lead to panic and mistakes. Planning ahead of time will allow the company to locate potential successors both internally and externally, assess them, and provide them with further training to prime them for the role.

5. Having only one successor in mind for each position

Companies that identify only one individual as a successor for a particular position are sometimes caught off-guard when that individual is no longer available when the time comes for them to assume the role. To avoid any nasty surprises, companies should identify multiple possible successors, both internally and externally.

6. One-size-fits-all leadership development

It is crucial to prepare your chosen successors for their role. However, leadership development programs should be tailored to meet the specific needs of the successor and the position they will be expected to hold. Not all roles or individuals are the same, and a customized development program will provide the best chance for success.

7. Failing to Involve Key Stakeholders 

Another frequent error companies make is failing to include key stakeholders in succession planning. During the succession planning process, executives, board members, human resources, and the potential successors themselves should be asked to weigh in. Failure to involve key stakeholders can lead to a succession plan that does not meet the needs of the organization or its potential successors.

8. Lack of transparency and communication

The succession planning process should be transparent and communicated effectively to all stakeholders. Lack of communication can lead to confusion and speculation, which can impact employee morale and business performance. Clear communication about the succession process, criteria for selecting successors, and the role of each individual in the process will ensure everyone is on the same page.

As a business leader, you know that planning for the future is key to your organization’s success. Nonetheless, when it comes to succession planning, things can get complicated fast. That is where Stanton Chase comes in.

Our revolutionary approach to succession planning is designed to make the process seamless. With a focus on aspiration, ability, and agility, we use our Fit-for-Purpose assessment framework to evaluate both internal and external candidates for critical leadership roles.

Our five-step process includes identifying those critical roles, building success profiles, conducting a thorough succession bench assessment, providing feed-forward sessions for individual development plans, and debriefing your organization on the outcome of the process.

With over 30 years of experience in searching for, assessing, and developing world-class corporate leaders, our consultants are uniquely qualified to help guide you through the succession planning process. Whether you are looking to improve your existing process or implement better leadership development programs, Stanton Chase has the expertise and tools to ensure a successful transition.

Click here to learn more about succession planning with Stanton Chase.

Click here to get in touch with one of our consultants.

About the Author

Wassim Karkabi is a shareholder and Managing Partner at Stanton Chase Middle East, based in the Dubai office. He is a seasoned executive search and executive coaching expert with over a decade of experience across the leadership spectrum.

Executive Search
Succession Planning
Board Governance
Leadership Development

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