Poor succession planning can have detrimental effects for an organisation, such as reputational damage, profit loss and structural inefficiencies. A well-known example is Blackberry – the poor succession plan of the former CEO of Blackberry, Thorsten Heins, resulted in the termination of 4,500 employees and a net loss of nearly $1 billion. Even multinational organisations are not immune to poor succession planning.

Below are 5 common succession planning mistakes and ways in which to avoid them.

  1. Keeping the succession planning process a secret

Transparency of succession planning activities helps to build employees’ trust in the process and allows everyone in an organisation to get on board. Keeping the process a secret suggests an organisation does not have a succession planning process in place. This could result in key employees leaving because they are uncertain of their own and the organisation’s future.

Having a transparent and clear process helps everyone to understand why certain individuals have been identified and others have not. This in turn will help dealing with potential disappointments. If people are aware of the future, they are likely to be more motivated to improve their performance. Thus an organisation needs to have some form of communication mechanism that spells out the process clearly and honestly.

  1. Choosing favourites

It is easy to fall into the trap of choosing an individual whom you get along with, or who is the most popular, as your successor. However, this may not be the best strategic approach for the organisation in the long-term. Your favourite employee may not have the critical skills required or may lack potential.

Two ways to avoid this mistake it to: a) have an objective assessment approach in place that is fair and defensible; and b) use ratings from many different sources to reduce the risk of bias.

  1. Turning succession into a competition

After being made aware of the succession planning process, those who are identified as potential successors for the same position may engage in competition. Succession planning is not a competition. Succession planning should be all about ensuring the right person is placed in the correct role and not about the egos of individuals.

Therefore the process needs to be managed very carefully. Always be honest and transparent with each individual under consideration. Reinforce the idea that it is not a competition between individuals, but a process that results in one individual being considered for a specific role. Highlight that the eventual successor will be the individual selected who best meets the specific challenges and goals of the organisation and does not necessarily reflect ability or future potential.

  1. Fail to review, revise and update your succession plan.

One should never think that a succession plan will stand forever. The world keeps changing, and a succession plan needs to be adjusted to manage the changes. Succession plans need to remain current and must constantly be revised and updated. Make the revision of the succession plan an annual objective of the talent management process.

  1. Top performers don’t always make the best leaders

Placing someone as a successor purely on the basis of past performance in a former role is a big mistake. Just because someone is an excellent swimmer, it does not automatically mean they will be an excellent swimming coach. The skills required are very different. Thus always consider an individual’s potential and readiness, and if need be look to other departments for talent. They may not be performing the exact same role, but may have the correct skill set required.


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Gallant, M. (2013). How Does Succession Planning Differ from Replacement Planning? Retrieved from http://www.halogensoftware.com/blog/how-does-succession-planning-differ-from-replacement-planning

Kovach, S. (2013). BlackBerry Says It Will Fire 4,500 Employees, Lost Nearly $1 Billion Last Quarter, Stock Closes Down 17%. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/blackberry-cutting-4500-jobs-2013-9

Lanik, M. (2016). The 3 Most Common Succession Planning Mistakes (You’re Definitely Guilty of #2). Retrieved from https://www.pinsight.com/blog/59/the-3-most-common-succession-planning-mistakes-you-re-definitely-guilty-of-2

McConnell , M.D. (2015). Top 10 Business Succession Planning Roadblocks (and How to Avoid Them). Retrieved from http://www.claconnect.com/resources/articles/top-10-business-succession-planning-roadblocks-and-how-to-avoid-them

Metzler, M.G. (2017). 5 Succession Planning Mistakes to Avoid. Retrieved from https://www.kmco.com/resource-center/5-succession-planning-mistakes-to-avoid/

Miller, B. (2017). Common Succession Planning Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/241782

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