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Next in Line: Creating a leadership pipeline

According to a recent survey completed by CareerBuilders, only a third of all workers have any desire to be in leadership positions. Could this then be the reason why the leadership pipeline has come to a slow drip in many of our organizations?

Last week, the news circuit was rocked with news of several executives, of large organizations, who resigned. We learned that Sepp Blatter will be stepping down as president of FIFA, as he is the focus of a federal corruption investigation. In the wake of an ongoing investigation, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, head of the Chicago Public Schools, submitted a brief resignation letter last Friday, annoucing her departure from the school system as of Monday, June 1st. And Wednesday it was reported that Jason Child of Groupon will be leaving his position as CFO to join a company on the west coast. No scandal there, just a father wanting to be closer to his son, apparently. His son will be attending college out west in the fall.

They each run very different organizations, in different industries, in different parts of the world, and are each leaving for different reasons. Couldn’t be more different if we tried. However, there is one thing they all have in common – there is no one ready to replace them.

As of last Monday, the Chicago Public School system has an interim CEO in place, until they can find a new head. Groupon didn’t address who will be replacng Child. And in Blatter’s case, it was noted that he will not be leaving until a new president can be elected, which from what I’ve read, won’t be for months.

Here’s the problem with all of this. An exiting leader, whether a middle level manager, or the head of the organization, can cause a huge disruption to the organization. And the disruption is often exacerbated when there is no one in place to take the helm. Departures, either through involuntary termination or resignation can send the department, or the entire organization into a tailspin. We see things like, decision-making for important issues being put on hold, leaving the organization at risk of losing its competitive advantage.

Succession planning done right, takes a lot of planning...and commitment. But is necessary if you want a leader's transition to be relatively seamless. Okay, seamless may be a stretch, but I did say relatively.

Succession planning means:

  • assessing key positions

  • collecting data from past and current performance reviews

  • making sure all necessary senior leaders are in the room, and engaged in the evaluation process

  • identifying your high potentials (HIPOs); evaluating them based on the organization’s performance values

  • and then preparing that key talent by:

  • determining career paths

  • creating IDPs (individual development plans)

  • assigning HIPOs to stretch assignments designed for the development of future roles

  • holding individuals accountable for completing their development plan

When talking to heads of HR, I learn that succession planning is one of those things they want to do, but either lack the talent to pull it off, or just haven't made it a priority. However, if your company wishes to have, and keep a competitive advantage, keeping HIPOs in the pipeline must become a part of the performance management and leadership development philosophy. This means not viewing succession planning as a one-off initiative to fill a particular leadership post, but as an ongoing assessment.

To learn more about succession planning and how you can begin implementing it in your organization, contact:

Robin Johnson, DSL

Organization Effectiveness


Reference: (2014), "Majority of Workers Don’t Aspire to Leadership Roles," Retrieved June 11, 2015,

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