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Common Succession Plan Mistakes

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6 Common Blunders in Succession Planning

Security Management has partnered with SHRM to bring you relevant articles on key workplace topics and strategies.

The biggest mistake in succession planning is the failure to plan at all.

“It's critical for companies to do succession planning, but oftentimes they don’t,” says Jackie Anderson, HR manager at RMI, a transportation and warehousing company in Mattawan, Michigan. “For instance, owners might feel they aren't ready to retire for another 10 years, but then something unforeseeable happens and the company stalls. All key positions need to have succession plans.”

Other common blunders include:

Failure to Set Reasonable Employee Expectations 

Communicate the importance of an individual’s contribution and place within the company. Make sure employees know where they stand and that they're valued by the organization, says Cady O’Grady, SHRM-SCP, director of HR at Greensfelder, Hemker, & Gale PC, a St. Louis, Missouri-based law firm.

Failure to Seek Employee Input

Ask employees what they want. Some employees might not wish to be promoted to a manager position. “Every single person in the organization needs to know where they're going next,” says Mary Kelly, chief executive officer of Dallas, Texas-based consultancy Productive Leaders. “If they want to move up, what do they need to do to be successful?”

Failure to Be Inclusive

Steer business leaders away from selecting successors who resemble themselves, advises Alex Clark, SHRM-SCP, director of HR for Sonstegard Foods Co. Inc. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This type of bias can stifle new perspectives that others in the organization could bring.


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Failure to Thoroughly Vet Potential Successors

“Some of the more common mistakes I’ve observed are to fail to go deep enough on the talent reviews and to overrate people too early in their careers,” says Amy Jo Young, senior director of organization effectiveness for defense systems at Northrop Grumman Corp. headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia. “They might be rock stars out of college and you put them on a succession plan, but they’re outstanding technically, not necessarily as leaders.”

Failure to Have Enough Candidates

Don’t rely on the same person as a successor for four different roles. “That’s not healthy bench strength,” Young says. “You need to have a variety of people at a variety of readiness levels for those roles.”

Failure of Leaders to Take an Active Role

As with most projects, success can only be achieved when organizational leaders provide strong and vocal support. "Most companies dump it in HR’s lap and say, ‘You deal with it,’” Kelly says. “HR’s job is to help leaders manage talent, not be the doer in all things. HR’s job is to make sure managers have what they need to guide and lead their people.”

Kathryn Tyler is a freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Michigan.

© 2022 SHRM. This article is reprinted from with permission from SHRM. All rights reserved.