Succession Planning? Despite What They Say, Your Leaders Secretly Hate It

Article main image
Aug 7, 2015

You want to know what you’ll never hear anyone on your leadership team say publicly?

Well, let me stop before I get started, because there are probably a ton of things leaders will say behind closed doors, off the record, and then open the door and say the exact opposite.

Welcome to the PC version of corporate America.

One of the obvious things which always causes a stir is veteran hiring. William Tincup and I were just talking about this last week in regards to a comment he was making about organizations and succession planning. I wrote a post about veteran hiring a while back in which I state that companies will always, 100 percent of the time, publicly say they support veteran hiring — but behind closed doors they don’t really support veteran hiring.

If they did, we would not have a veteran hiring crisis in this country! If every organization that claims they want to hire veterans would just hire veterans, we would have 100 percent employed veterans!

But we don’t. Why? Well, it’s organizational suicide to ever come out and say we don’t really want to hire veterans. The media would kill that organization, yet veterans can’t get hired.

Why leaders really hate succession planning

Succession planning is on a similar path. Your leaders say they support succession planning. They’ll claim it is the No. 1 priority for your organization. But, every time you try and do something with succession planning, it goes nowhere!


Your leaders hate succession planning for a number of reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Financially, succession planning is a huge burden on organizations if done right. Leaders are paid on the financial success of your organization. If it comes down to succession planning, or Michael getting a big bonus, succession planning will get pushed to next year, then next year, then next year… You see, succession planning is really over hiring and preparing for the future. It’s about long term pay back. Very few organizations have leadership in place with this type of long term vision of success.
  2. Leaders get too caught up in headcount. We only have 100 FTEs for that group, we couldn’t possibly hire 105 and develop and prepare the team for the future, even though we know we have 6 percent turnover each year. Organizations react. It’s a fire fight. Most are unwilling to “over hire” and do succession in a meaningful way.
  3. Leaders are like 18 year-old boys. They think they can do it forever! Again, publicly they’ll tell you they’re planning and that succession is  important. Privately, they look at some smart ass 35 year-old VP and think to themselves, “There is no way in hell I’ll ever let that kid take over this ship!”

What HR can do to make succession planning work

So, what can smart HR Pros do

  • Begin testing some succession planning type tools and data analytics in hot spots in your company. Don’t make it a leadership thing. Make it a functional level initiative, in a carve out area of your organization, a part of the organization that is highly visible, has direct financial impact to the business, and one you know outwardly has succession issues.
  • Tinker. Get people involved. Have conversations. Start playing around with some things that could have impact in terms of development, retention, cross training, workforce planning, etc. Get into all those things that constitute succession, but instead of doing it at the organization level, focus on the departmental level or a specific location.

Smart HR Pros will get started. They don’t wait for the organization to do it all at once. That will probably never happen. Just start somewhere, and roll it little by little.

Too often we don’t get started because we want to do it all. That is the biggest mistake we can make.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!