Why Leaders Are So Fearful of Succession Planning (Part 1)

Small Business

by Susan D. Lesser, Partner, nPlusOne Consulting (Reprinted with permission.)
A whopping 98% of executives believe a succession plan is an important part of company governance. But only 35% of companies have planned for the departure of their CEO. In the wake of Steve Jobs’ leave of absence, Apple was required to put forth a plan. Banking giant BNP is also starting to discuss the ‘S’ word. AIG and UnitedHealthcare have recently tackled this unmentionable as well. On a smaller scale, just last week, albeit kicking and screaming, two of our clients came to the conclusion that succession planning should be occurring in their companies. However, others who would benefit tremendously from putting in place a plan for succession, are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the best.
What makes this subject so taboo? Why are so many leaders reticent to have these conversations? For the successee, the person being encouraged to step aside, the mere thought of planning for their departure signals an end to what has constituted a major portion of his or her life.
Saying good-bye to this commitment is frequently a struggle for any of three reasons:

  • Loss of identity. For all of the hours devoted to the business, the organizational head has had a clear role, knowing exactly who he or she is. With that role has come status, power and possibly adoration.
  • Walking away from these enticements can be a struggle for anyone.
  • Uncertain future. And to what is he or she going? It is not uncommon for these leaders to have a foggy idea, if any, of what their future will be and how their time will be spent.
  • No one but me. A belief that no one in the company is sufficiently competent to fill the departing leader’s shoes stymies many from seriously contemplating departure. Oftentimes, this situation exists where mentoring the next generation of leaders has not been sufficient.

As strong as these feelings may be, succession planning is an important and mandatory step all companies need to take. Yes, you can avoid it up until the very last minute but that only means that you will leave behind a frantic workforce void of direction and missing a vision or worse yet, a company without a viable future. It is ironic that the very people who put so much energy into building something greater than themselves often place their feelings ahead of the very entity they sweated to create. Although a difficult part of doing business, succession planning is an integral part of the enterprise’s strategic process that must not, cannot, and should not be avoided.

Part 2 appears next time. nPlusOne Consulting partners with a wide variety of clients, across a range of industries, to strengthen their business from the core. The firm improves financial results by increasing employees’ performance through a proprietary process of diagnosing, training and benchmarking. They also guide lasting culture change and improve bottom-line results by instilling the efficiencies of a team culture, while enhancing communications throughout the organization as a whole. More information


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