Challenges of Succession Planning in 2022 (Plus How to Overcome Them)

Effective succession planning is critical for organisations to ensure business continuity, success and achievement of business goals. The Majority (86%) of leaders believe in its urgency and importance, however, only 14% believe that the organisation is doing it well*. 

One cause for concern is data, as business succession planning is for most human resource managers still a subjective process susceptible to human bias. 

While there is no one size fits all approach to succession planning across different organisations, it is important for senior leaders to recognise that good data is one of the key success factors because the right decisions can be made.

Majority (86%) of leaders believe in its urgency and importance, however, only 14% believe that the organisation is doing it well.


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The overarching goal of succession planning is to have a pipeline of leaders across the organisation for mission critical or key positions. 

With a steady pipeline of potential candidates for leadership roles, organisations will have a stronger organisational culture, a future-proof workforce as well as better stability and resilience. 

However, selecting the wrong talent comes with a price that could lead to detrimental consequences for the organisation. Oftentimes, these consequences are hidden until it’s too late to fix, read more about these hidden costs poor succession planning here

Hence, it is of importance for organisations to prioritise a more analytical and scientific approach to succession planning. And yet, many organisations still face difficulties when it comes to data in succession planning. 

Click here to download free Ultimate Guide to Succession Planning

The 3 Key Data biggest Challenges of Success Planning

1. Data Collection of Succession Planning

In a survey, more than 50% of organisations approach succession planning and data collection in an unplanned and ad-hoc manner. 

This may cause organisations to lose out in taking into consideration relevant and crucial data, especially data that is already existing. 

In actuality, data from existing processes in place, e.g. formal appraisals, 360 feedback, performance ratings, could add value and better inform decisions in the succession planning process but are usually overlooked and not collected.

Furthermore, the data are all sitting in separate spreadsheets and platforms and require significant effort for its collection and compilation for the succession planning process. 

This as a result also makes it harder for succession planning to be scalable across more employees and key positions due to the effort required. 

Succession Planning challenges

2. Succession Planning Challenges of Data Analysis

With existing data sitting in different platforms and sources, it is difficult for organisations to connect the dots between them when evaluating internal candidates for succession planning. 

Although organisations are increasingly taking steps to support or drive succession planning, many still lack the appropriate tools to ease the process and make sense of the data objectively. 

Refer here for our best practices in selecting the right tools to help your process. 

In addition, many organisations miss out on certain data that can be utilised to predict an internal or external candidate’s potential. In most cases, only existing data of performance in the current position is taken into account, while other data, e.g. psychometric/behavioural data and agility which can be used to predict potential against the specific new position, is overlooked. 

Past performance data should not be the only determining factor in succession planning, as future potential is as crucial an element. 

Otherwise, it would be falling into the pitfall of the Peter Principle, whereby pool of candidates are evaluated based on criteria and expectations of their previous role, instead of the intended/future role which requires different skill sets and capabilities.

Challenges of Succession Planning

3. Succession Planning Framework Data Outcome

Most organisations face difficulties in visualising and drawing insights about talent pools in a data-driven and objective manner for decision-making. With that challenge, succession plans tend to fall back on subjectivity and gut feeling. 

Only 55% of board directors/leaders have a clear view and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the senior executives in detail.*** There is a lack of clarity and holistic visibility to the capabilities of the talent pool. 

Instead, leaders tend to default to subjective factors and instincts such as likability, tenure, relationships or informal evaluations to make decisions on their preferred successor. 

Furthermore, leaders inadvertently select successors who are a lot like themselves or their idea of what a successor should be like. 

This is exacerbated by their confirmation bias whereby they already have this impression or opinion of a candidate and would only accept information that supports their original belief, thereby rejecting information that does not. 

Peek into The New Lens of Succession Planning

Insights on Succession Planning from our recent Lunch and Learn Session

Having worked with several clients over the last few years to successfully build their talent pipeline, the feedback and questions from HR teams as well as industry best practices have guided Accendo to adopt a fresh perspective on Succession Planning.

We would like to share this new lens we have adopted, and help companies navigate Succession Planning in today’s fast-moving digital landscape.

The general gist of Succession Planning is to find the right people to fill the right roles. It comes to play in ensuring continued business and service to our customers.

A recent example of its impact is when Disney’s stocks dropped 2% after an unexpected CEO succession and a key executive member moved to another company.

This goes to show how serious an impact succession planning or the lack of thereof has on business continuity and shareholder value. 

Understanding its importance especially in times of crisis, explore the hidden costs of poor succession planning here, Accendo recently conducted a virtual lunch and learn session as part of our month-long Succession Planning campaign.

Speakers of the webinar include the host, Ashvin Nair, the Head of Market Insights in Accendo, Dhamiri Petra, former Korn Ferry consultant and Head of Client Insights, Thanesyah Ravindran, the Head of Insights, as well as our guest speaker, Ramya Balakrishnan, the Head of Talent & Performance Management in Maxis, who has worked with organisations such as Dell, GE and Unilever. In the webinar, the speakers covered the following topics:

  • Succession Planning and the New Lens
  • Job Roles and its Shift
  • Potential and how to Connect the Dots
  • Key Takeaways

The concept of Succession Planning has been more and less the same since the early 1980s.

We have all heard the cliché line “if you work long and hard enough, that corner of the office or this position could be yours someday,” but now the idea of joining a company as a fresh graduate and staying for 20 years is unheard of.

Furthermore, all too often Succession Planning is seen as a priority, but tends to fall off the agenda. Only during the time of talent councils, do organisations start planning successors. This is where the big disconnect is, where Succession Planning is stuck between intent and action.

How then can we make Succession Planning a more constant and continuous process in the current landscape?

90% of respondents ranked Succession Planning as “important” and above however 46% don’t have a structured plan for dealing with vacancies.

Succession Planning can be viewed from 3 main aspects – People, Job Roles, and Potential. For this session, as HR and organisations are most familiar with the first element – their People, the discussion will delve into the latter two (Job Roles and Potential.

Aspect 1: Job Roles and its Shift

The constant in Succession Planning is about identifying talents for the next job. Now, jobs are changing constantly with the rise of automation, technology and AI. Companies are compelled to change job roles to adapt, or else they get left behind. Some jobs may become redundant while others may change the way they work. 25% of jobs are already currently experiencing high levels of disruption and 47% of jobs will vanish in the next 20-25 years. 

However, jobs are still very much relevant. The shift is that changes are happening at an accelerated rate. 33% of new jobs created did not exist 25 years ago. With new jobs, new skills are needed. Before, skills could last our entire career (20-30 years) but because the change in jobs happens frequently now, skills are also changing frequently, with most skills lasting only 10 years or less. By 2022, 54% of workers will require significant upskilling or reskilling. This now means that the ability to reskill and upskill has dramatically increased, leading to a focus on talents who can adapt and are willing to learn and grow. 

Hence, with regard to Succession Planning, the approach needs to change to reflect the future we are moving to. With constant change, gone are the days of succeeding based on tenure. It is now about whether talents have the right stuff – competencies for the future and the ability to upskill. With jobs constantly changing and going digital, talents need to be agile and adaptable, and Succession Planning needs to go through the same. 

Aspect 2: Potential and how to Connect the Dots

With the need for a new and flexible way of running succession planning, Accendo has been challenging the consulting-heavy approach of Succession Planning of the past. By combining technology and digitisation, it allows for the democratisation and transparency of Succession Planning for all levels in an organisation. To achieve a successful outcome, it requires the following crucial elements: 

  • Job Architecture: While jobs are the first focus area of Succession Planning, skills are now treated as the main currency. Organisations need to create a job architecture framework with all the skills and competencies in a central depository.

    This allows organisations to better understand and gauge the organisation’s skill level as they grow. Having a future proof and relevant job architecture is important not just for Succession Planning, but the talent life cycle as a whole.

  • Technology: Succession Planning involves a lot of time and money. Technology is the catalyst for scalability across the organisation. Utilising technology as compared to doing things manually and without structure, for example in trying to craft new roles or evaluating the talent pool, makes it easier and more efficient. 
  • Succession Planning Measurement and tools: One common mistake that organisations tend to make is simply replacing old tools with new ones, for example, replacing one assessment provider with another.

    However, this does not address the root problem. Rather than having multiple tools in silos, it is the integration of various measurements that unearths meaningful insights and achieves a holistic view of talents. 

  • Challenges of succession planning Outcome: Based on experience, most organisations run Succession Planning with a lot of focus on performance and most recently potential as well, which they then plot against a 9 box to identify top talents and discuss these talents.

While not wrong, it may not necessarily be effective in the current digital and changing landscape, especially when trying to move outside the box. The new approach is to plot the skills needed for each unique role. Instead of grouping experience, skills, competencies as silos, it is about focusing on the interplay of it all and measuring them as an amalgamation to gain a holistic view of talents against a specific role. 

By building a powerful job architecture framework and implementing integrated measurements through the use of technology, it will provide talent insights to drive clear development gaps and identify risk areas. As a result, HR Tool succession planning will have clarity of organisation’s capability to drive business strategy and needs while employees will have the clarity to drive their career growth.

While many organisations recognise the importance of succession planning and are making it a key priority, it is still difficult for them to yield results and see the expected value from it. 

Organisations face a myriad of human biases and inconsistencies in their decision making, on top of the pain points in collecting, managing and evaluating data that should otherwise be used to eliminate subjectivity. 

In order to take control of their succession planning and ensure its effectiveness, organisations need to address the biggest challenges by putting in place the right processes and solutions based on best practices and a data-driven approach to succession planning effectively.

7 Biggest Steps To Kick Start Your Succession Planning

We all know that senior colleagues who earned key position by virtue of being around a long time, and not because they are particularly great at the job in question.

The ones who hedge their survival on buying the boss a Teh Tarik or two every week.

If this sounds tired and outdated, it’s because it is. It’s also causing many hidden costs that are visible now but is destined to be detrimental in the long run. Learn more on that here.

For thousands of years, we made choices about one another on the basis of physical attributes. If you wanted to construct a temple, fight a war, or harvest a crop, you chose the fittest, healthiest, strongest people you could find. 

Those attributes were easy to assess, and, despite their growing irrelevance, we still unconsciously look for them: Fortune 500 CEOs are on average 2.5 inches taller than the average American, and the statistics on military leaders and country presidents are similar.

This morphed in the 20th century when IQ—verbal, analytical, mathematical, and logical cleverness—was justifiably seen as an important factor in hiring processes, especially for white-collar roles, with standardised tests and educational results used as measures. 

The trend then shifted towards competency testing in which candidates were evaluated on specific characteristics and skills that helped predict outstanding employee performance in the roles for which they were being hired. 

Research also showed that emotional intelligence was even more important than IQ when it came to leadership & key roles. This is still largely practised today, and as a direct result, advancement can all too often be procured by virtue of simply mastering the art of tea drinking, brown-nosing.

Today, the focus must shift on succession planning by gauging potential.

But now, we enter a new era. 

Today, the focus must shift on succession planning by gauging high-potential employees. Competitive environments shift, a company’s strategy might change, fortunes ebb, jobs might require business leaders to collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues. 

So the question is not whether your company’s employees and business leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.

What qualities can we identify to measure the potential of employees we are grooming for succession?

Curiosity: a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change

Insight: the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities

Engagement: a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people

Determination: the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity

This is all well and good. But most companies need to first kick-start their succession planning initiatives. And this can seem daunting at first. Just where do you start? And how do you begin to make potential work for you? 

7 Steps to Create an Effective Succession Plan

1. Be proactive

It can take time to find and prepare a promising candidate for a leadership role. Your employee development and internal talent management plan should be able to fill the talent gap. Even if you don’t think you’ll need a replacement in the near future, prepping someone to assume an important role creates an invaluable safety net.

Look for people who best display the skills necessary to thrive in higher positions, regardless of their current title.

2. Keep an open mind

The obvious successor may not always be the key employee who is second in command, don’t disregard other promising high potentials. Look for people who best display the skills necessary to thrive in higher positions, regardless of their current title.

3. Make the vision known

Include potential successor, managers, and future leaders in strategy conversations to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, as well as a broad vision of the organisation and its objectives.

4. Offer regular feedback to protégés

When someone uses well-honed presentation skills or outperforms on a project, make note of it. Keep track of these achievements in a top-performer file so you have something to reference the next time a management position opens.

5. Provide training to peak performers

As you identify your top performers, offer mentoring relationships, job shadowing and training, which add true value and help them develop new skills and refine existing ones.

6. Do a trial run of your succession plan

A vacation is a great time to have a potential successor step in to assume some responsibilities. The employee will gain experience while you learn how prepared the person is to take on a bigger role.

Succession planning process can help you identify where to focus your recruiting efforts

7. Use your plan to develop a hiring strategy

Once you’ve identified internal employees as successors for key roles in your organisation, take note of any talent gaps. In this way, the succession planning process can help you identify where to focus your recruiting efforts.

Identifying the potential of your future leaders can be further aided with a data-centred approach, free from personal bias, and is a great first step to charting your company’s succession planning roadmap. Understand more on tools that can help you achieve this here.

Additional Resources for Succession Planning





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