Kim Turnage

Spoiler Alert: Probably not the person who is leading your company now.

How long has your company’s CEO been in the role? Given that departing CEO’s have an average tenure of about 9 years (source), if you just hired a new CEO, you’re likely to select another one in less than a decade. If your current CEO has been with you longer, the clock is ticking.

We all know that changes at the top typically create lots of other movement within the organization. They also disrupt progress toward long-term strategic objectives. Do you have a leadership succession plan in place to smooth that inevitable transition?

I can think of at least 7 reasons succession planning should be a top business priority for 2017. Click on that link if you need convincing. One of the biggest ones is that you nearly double your odds of selecting a successful leader when you make that selection from within (here’s more detail on that).

Once you’re on board with the “why” and have the proper sense of urgency about the “when” on leadership succession planning, here’s a simple (but not necessarily easy) three-step guide to getting it done.

Step 1: Assess

Quality assessment is a key element of any good succession plan. Every process you undertake will involve some kind of assessment. Ideally you will have an approach to assessment that is:

  • Standardized
  • Objective
  • Validated
  • Robust enough to measure both performance and potential

Standardized, objective and validated are criteria you should apply to any process you use to make employment decisions within your organization. Let’s unpack “robust” a little more.

High performance isn’t enough. You need to identify high potential. And you need to be doing it at all levels of the organization, not just at the C-suite.

The pace of change is accelerating. Top performance in your business today is likely to look very different from top performance in your business ten years from now. And current performance is not necessarily predictive of future performance, especially when the definition of top performance changes as dramatically as it does when people level up in leadership responsibility. The cream of your crop today includes people who have both high performance and high potential. Here’s the difference:

Performance vs. Potential 

  • Knowledge and skill vs. Learning agility
  • Implementation vs. Ideation
  • Execution vs. Innovation
  • Follow-through vs. Self-direction
  • Does great work vs. Helps others do their best work
  • Achieves goals vs. Defines goals
  • A-player vs. Winning coach
  • Developing self vs. Developing others

You get the picture. Your succession plan will only be as good as your assessment approach. Get that part right and you have a great foundation for building your organization’s future.

Step 2: Invest

You want everyone in your organization growing and improving, right? Ideally your assessment approach will be detailed and individualized enough to create specific, personalized coaching strategies for everyone, not just those who are at the intersection of high performance and high potential.

Understanding everyone’s strengths and investing appropriately (and individually) in everyone’s growth can lead to higher engagement across the board. Know each person’s distinctive strengths, and equip your leaders and managers to invest in people’s career development. 

Invest in everyone, but make bigger investments in your high-performance, high-potential people. These are the people who will achieve the greatest gains for whatever you invest in their growth. Send these people to leadership development programs. Give these people coaches and mentors. Make them your priority. They are your future.

Step 3: Repeat

Succession planning and intentional leadership development have to be an ongoing process. The workforce is more fluid than ever before, and even though you’re investing in your high-performance, high-potential people, not all of them will still be with you in ten years. You need to continuously fill your leadership pipeline with people who have the potential to make your business successful…whatever the future holds.

This post is part of a series that started with 7 Reasons Succession Planning Should Your Top Priority in 2017. Next up: Avoid These 4 Mistakes to Find Your Best Next-Gen Leaders.


Kim Turnage, Ph.D. works as a Senior Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus, helping leaders select the best people, develop those people through a focus on their strengths, and create talent-based succession plans that will drive the future growth of their organizations.

She writes regularly on leadership and everything that goes along with it. Find more of her work  here.

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