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May 24, 2019

What’s getting in the way of effective succession planning?

New research into succession management and planning finds that some companies aren’t taking the steps to make their programs effective. Here are more findings on the barriers to succession planning program success.


In’s recent research report sponsored by Ceridian – which surveyed 500 HR professionals working for companies of all sizes – one thing became very clear: organizations generally do believe succession planning is important. However, many companies aren’t taking the necessary steps to make these programs successful.

According to the report, The state of succession management 2019, most large organizations (58%) have a formal succession planning process, and 29% of smaller companies (100 employees or less) have a formal plan.

However, only about a third (35%) of HR professionals actually believe they have an effective succession management program.

What’s getting in the way of these programs?

The research found that ineffectiveness is not due to a lack of financial resources.  Instead, succession planning isn’t being made a priority.

It’s not surprising, then, that respondents who said their succession planning programs are less effective work at companies that both lack the defined process and the technology to make it successful.

Here, we dive deeper into more of the findings from the succession planning and management report, which highlight many of the barriers these programs face.

Lack of time and financial resources are not the key barriers to succession planning

According to the HR professionals surveyed, 51% said the reason their organizations lack formal succession planning is due to the program not being a priority to the organization. In fact, this was the most common reason respondents provided. Additionally, of the respondents who said they do have defined succession management programs, 40% said they lack clear support from senior management.

The report suggests that succession planning may not be a priority in some companies because those organizations feel they already have top-performing, quality talent. It’s likely more common, though, that organizations are without the required expertise to efficiently run a succession planning program, the report notes. Without clarity on the best way forward, organizations are likely more hesitant to funnel resources into succession planning – and this is one potential barrier preventing organizations from reaching their true potential.

Less effective programs don’t have a defined process

As noted above, only about a third (35%) of HR professionals feel they have an effective succession management program.

Of the 65% of respondents who said their organizations don’t have effective succession programs, only 15% have a well-defined process, while, 72% of respondents from organizations with effective programs said they have a well-defined process. With a well-defined process being the biggest difference between organizations with effective programs and those without effective programs, it follows that succession management programs may be improved by defining the overall process better.

This may involve formalizing a strategy that includes assessing the organization for both key positions and key talent. Leading companies use succession planning technology to help identify top performers for key roles, and opportunities to develop them as successors.

Learn more about how companies with effective succession management are managing their processes

Organizations are not fully leveraging tools and technology

Respondents who reported that their succession management programs were effective are using formal assessment tools to understand candidates’ leadership capabilities/readiness. Conversely, companies with less effective succession planning and management programs aren’t using these tools.

The numbers tell the story: most organizations (54%) with productive succession management programs are using formal assessment tools, while only 36% of companies with less effective programs do the same. And just 33% of HR professionals believe the technology used to support succession management is sufficient.

Another approach that’s integral to succession planning is mentoring and coaching. In fact, organizations with effective programs are more likely to use mentoring/coaching (78%) and cross-functional assignments (53%) than those with ineffective programs.

Coaching is an optimal way to ease identified leaders into their positions over time, instead of putting them into a position for which they are unprepared.

Learn more about using technology to support succession planning

HR leaders agree that succession planning will become broader and more important

Of the 500 HR professionals surveyed, 78% deem succession planning to be more important than ever. Similarly, 60% of these individuals see succession planning growing in its overall scope and covering more key positions throughout organizations.

While some companies are struggling to make succession planning work, that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Making succession planning a priority, defining a process, and leveraging the right tools to make the programs more efficient are key steps towards success.

Not sure that your company’s succession program is all that it should be? Then download the report to find out about best practices from organizations with effective succession planning programs.

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