It’s a Mistake to Make Succession a Horse Race

Who’s next?

That is the question that those involved in succession planning focus upon when considering candidates for senior positions. And while the answer produces a candidate, such a question is too narrow.

A better question would be: who’s best?

While succession planning needs focus on identifying candidates for senior positions, too often the focus is on the horse race — who’s ahead — rather than the organization — who’s best prepared to lead. In a horse race, the focus is on metrics: what an executive has accomplished. In the organizational perspective, the focus is more broad-based — how the executive has achieved what he or she has accomplished.

As much as organizations devote to success planning issues, there are shortcomings. According to a 2012 study by the Institute for Executive Development (IED) survey participants noted three major problems:

  • Lack of a coherent strategy for executive development
  • Lack of a formal process for developing successor candidates; and
  • Lack of candidates ready to take the CEO job.

IED’s suggestions for improvement include clarifying roles and objectives for those involved in succession planning and developing relevant analytics to determine a candidate’s true effectiveness. These two focus on what a candidate has accomplished; a third recommendation — improve the development process — gets to the how the candidate works.

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First posted on 2.07.13