Who’s the New Boss? How to Avoid Succession Planning Mistakes


Many corporations have endured a rough 2020 that included the resignations of top executives at some major brands. Will their replacements be ready? It’s a fair question, especially if the new company leader is promoted from within. Studies show many senior leaders don’t think their companies properly educate and prepare future leaders for succession.

If an organization has no pipeline of leaders ready to take over senior leadership positions, then a lack of succession planning can be catastrophic for even the most enduring company, says Jennifer Mackin, a leader of two consulting firms and the ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution.

“Many companies don’t find the development of leaders significant until they are readying for succession planning, embarking on a new venture, or weathering storms that threaten their viability,” Mackin says. “This reactive approach is risky because development takes time.”

Mackin says it’s time for CEOs, senior leaders, and heads of HR to modernize their leadership development because of the ever-evolving business world, which is especially volatile now.

“Leaders often weren’t ready to assume higher roles before the pandemic, and now it’s a bigger problem in terms of succession,” Mackin says. “A rapidly-changing time, such as now, is a good reason to focus on succession to ensure the chances of a company’s long-term survival.”

Mackin says the common mistakes companies make in their succession plans are:

  • They start too late. Even when companies realize they will have a void in their leadership roles, they wait too long to get the succession process started, Mackin says. “They may know people are retiring in two years,” she says, “but they need to start their planning well before then. It takes three to five years to do it right.”
  • They only consider the CEO role in their succession conversation. Mackin says that when a company does a thorough evaluation of its people, looking not only at their present performance but gauging their future, they might discover they don’t have the right kinds of people in the right roles. “Companies that win think strategically and have a people plan to address those gaps,” she says. “I recommend an overall development plan for the organization’s leaders as a whole and for individuals, and a succession plan for all key roles, not just for the CEO or C-Suite.”
  • The succession plan and development plan aren’t shared with leaders. Many companies worry that if their plans are known by the individuals slotted for upcoming senior roles, other people, not chosen, will leave. “Having outlined all roles with expectations will help others aspire to gain the knowledge and skills they need, because then they know what is required at the next level,” Mackin says.
  • Decisions are made subjectively by the top leadership team. “It is tough to create a succession plan without objective data about the future open roles and the employees that could potentially fit those roles with the right development,” Mackin says.

“Prepared leaders who are stepping into higher roles have never been more important than they are now,” Mackin says. “They are more adept during unforeseen disruptions and are able to pull their teams together. They can recraft a new, realistic, strategic direction quickly.”

Jennifer Mackin is a ForbesBook author of Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution, and a leader of two consulting firms – CEO of Oliver Group, Inc. and President and Partner of Leadership Pipeline Institute US. As an author and speaker with over 25 years of consulting experience, she is a recognized leadership development influencer, having worked with CEOs, human resources managers, leadership development leaders, entrepreneurs, and other senior leaders in all industries. She earned her BS in marketing from Indiana University and her MBA from Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University.

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