Poor Succession Planning: Risks and Impacts

To avoid being caught off guard by the departures of key employees, there must be a succession plan in place. It is a top priority for CEOs and must not be put on the back burner. 

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The primary risk that arises from a lack of succession planning is that the business can go downhill really fast. If something happens to the current key employee, the business will suffer, leading to low productivity, lost work, and lower quality of work. Since succession planning is a matter of avoiding risks, you must know what the impacts of not having it are.

Deferring or putting succession planning on the back burner is an easy thing to do, especially when there are other pressing priorities. 

However, senior executives should not hope that the best employees will never leave, and that finding replacement is going to be easy while the impact on business will be quite low.

The failure or lack of succession planning is often due to boards and stakeholders allowing it to fall off their priority/agenda, as well as many other challenges such as the lack of a structured process, ambiguity of accountability for succession planning, decision-making based on gut feel over objective data, and so on.

Failing a succession plan or not having one at all comes with several costs and risks for the organisation, particularly for mission-critical positions. 

Companies that underwent forced transitions/successions (i.e. unseating an incumbent and/or hiring externally) could have generated USD 112 billion more in market value in the year before and after the turnover, had the succession been planned. 

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Companies that underwent forced transitions/successions could have generated USD112 billion more in market value in the year before and after the turnover, had the succession been planned.

The approach to succession planning should be based on a company’s culture. In general, organisations with good succession planning practices perform better financially compared to organisations that have poor succession planning.  

Hence, the question then is not “What does succession planning cost?” and instead is “What is the cost of not putting in place a strategic succession plan?”   

Poor Succession Planning Leads to Financial Risks for the Business

The impact of a sudden departure or crisis for a key leadership role or mission-critical position is significant and could cause disruption to the business. 

Some impact of business disruption includes issues such as suspended initiatives, disrupted third-party/partner relationships, poor financial performance, loss of revenue or shares, and so on. There is a lot of uncertainty and turbulence posed by a sudden vacancy/departure of a key position within the organisation. 

For example, shares for Hewlett Packard took an 8.3% plunge after the CEO stepped down in 2010. However, this could be avoided if organisations have solid and effective succession planning in place.


Studies show that companies without a proper succession plan forgo an average of $1.8 billion in shareholder value compared with companies that succession plan, regardless of whether the replacement is an insider or outsider.
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Poor Succession Planning Process Results in Selecting the Wrong Candidate

When there is no structured succession planning process or success profile or potential successor in place to determine what a good successor looks like, there is always the risk of selecting the wrong successor—both internal and external. 

When selection is based on subjectivity or one-sided factors, the risk of selecting potential successors who are not fully qualified for a role. This is true whether hiring internally or externally. This happens even more so when there is an urgency to fill a vacancy quickly. 

The lack of a role fit, be it behaviourally, culturally or skill-wise, would negatively influence the effectiveness and performance of someone in the role. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of a wrong hire is at least 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings, and this is an estimate of hard figures. There is also the element of morale and productivity of other employees that could potentially be affected on top of the quantifiable financial impact.

The lack of a role fit, be it behaviourally, culturally or skill-wise, would negatively influence the effectiveness and performance of someone in the role.
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Poor Succession Planning Causes Loss of Knowledge and Expertise

When top talent leaves the company/role without a successor, the employee takes with them all the knowledge and skillsets they have gained while in the role. In addition to it, they also take all the relationships built with stakeholders and how that could be leveraged to yield business results. 

For example, hiring external candidates may fill the knowledge gap in the industry, but they require time to understand the dynamics and politics of the organisation.

The cost to replace a highly trained employee is expensive and could exceed 200% of their salary. 

Losing skilled employees in highly niche roles also increases the difficulty in finding good external candidates for replacements due to the lack of talent in the market. 

Without someone to receive that knowledge transfer and succeed in that role under the former incumbents’ guidance, that knowledge and expertise are lost and will not be passed down. 

As a result, significant effort and cost are required to retrain a new incumbent.

The cost to replace a highly trained employee is expensive and could exceed 200% of their salary

Risks of Losing Internal Talents

It is significantly cheaper for internal talents to succeed in future roles, as the organisation can save on time and recruitment fees. 

Furthermore, internal candidates already come with institutional knowledge, as well as other relevant data that can be factored into the decision-making such as a performance track record, 360 feedback, and assessment data. 

Hiring and promoting internal talents as part of the career development plan and advancement opportunities can motivate and retain employees. As a result, this would strengthen their engagement and commitment to the organisation, thereby increasing employee performance and talent retention.

In contrast, organisations will lose out on these when there is no or poor succession plan in place as it can be easy to overlook internal talents who are highly interested or suitable for a key position for external hires instead.

Ultimately, there is an undeniable cost to the organisation when succession planning is done poorly, or not done at all. 

Not only would organisations’ businesses be affected financially, but the people element (e.g. employee engagement, talent retention, capability) is also impacted. There is no doubt how critical a priority it is to get succession planning right

Therefore, organisations need to invest in resources and tools to build a solid and steady talent pipeline for business continuity and success.

But Why Succession Planning Fails?

  1. It may not have occurred to you before, but when your organization brings in a new CEO or another top executive, this may bring about a turning point in how your succession plan is handled. The new executive may want to choose his or her people, and that may mean that your carefully conceived succession plan will go out the window.
  2. In any organisation, we are bound to notice a few key players doing all of the heavy liftings and tend to think that we want to keep these key players on our team forever. Thinking like this is a poor succession practice.
  3. If you’ve ever been passed an unpopular project or been forced to mentor someone who wasn’t very talented, then you know how important a strong succession plan can be.

The same can be said in the workplace, where succession planning, or IV (indefinite voluntary) resignation, can cause issues within your company. Where there is no real clear direction for your employees, there can be a drop in productivity, a lack of morale, and the overall quality of work from the company can suffer.

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