Kim Turnage

If you’re like most leaders, these two things top the list of things that keep you up at night (source):

1. Attracting and retaining top talent.

2. Developing the leaders of your organization’s future.

That’s just one of 7 reasons succession planning should be your top business priority for 2017

Whether you’re a CEO or a human capital leader, here’s the cold hard fact. Your organization can’t grow without great leadership. And the clock is ticking. The average CEO’s tenure is about nine years (source). And, for a variety of reasons, the need to replace a CEO creates additional holes in senior leadership you need to fill.

The bottom line is this: you need to be intentional about who will be leading your organization in ten years. And you need to start now. I suggest a 3-step process for succession planning that’s simple…but not easy. Whether you take my advice or go your own way with succession planning, here are some common mistakes you can intentionally avoid along the way:

Mistake #1:  Make your top performers your “succession plan.”

A person’s outstanding performance in their current position does not necessarily predict outstanding performance at the next level. You have to be looking beyond performance to potential. We’ve all seen the Peter Principle in operation a few too many times, haven’t we? Ask questions like these to look at potential for leadership excellence:

  • Who asks great questions that push us beyond the status quo?
  • Who is always learning more and connecting new ideas to our overarching goals?
  • Who has the influence (even without formal authority) to advance ideas for making things work better?
  • Who has a knack for seeing what other people do well and positioning those people to succeed in the process of achieving bigger picture team goals?
  • Who do people naturally turn to for answers, advice or a listening ear?
  • Who do you implicitly trust?
  • Who elevates the game and the intensity of every other player when he or she walks onto the field?
  • Who manages change and conflict in ways that keep people focused on achievement?

Whatever a person’s specific expertise, these habits of thinking and action make success more likely at the next level of leadership. 

Mistake #2:  Rely on subjective assessments of leadership potential.

You’re making a mistake if succession candidates are selected based primarily on individual manager recommendations. Decision by committee or consensus isn’t much better. Here are some specific things you can do to objectify the process:    

  • Identify objectively measurable qualities shared by next-level leaders who have historically been successful in your organization. Then use multiple raters to evaluate each candidate on those qualities.
  • Use a validated assessment tool that measures leadership potential to predict next-level leadership performance.

Mistake #3: Only plan for the C-suite.

If you’re creating succession plans only for the C-suite, you have the potential to leave gaping leadership holes when the time comes to promote your internal candidates into those C-suite roles. If you want to prepare your organization for the future, you should be intentionally planning for succession at every step in the organization’s hierarchy from individual performer to the C-suite.

Mistake #4: Once you’ve identified potential successors, your work is done.

The succession plan is just the beginning! The next step is creating and implementing individualized development plans for your future leaders to keep them growing and highly committed to your organization. And the step after that is continually adding new people to that high-potential pool. Some people will be promoted. Despite the investments you make in their growth, some people will leave the organization.  Also, if your business is growing, you’ll need more leaders in ten years than you need today. If you aren’t continually identifying potential and developing it, you won’t be ready to meet the future leadership needs of the organization. Succession planning should be an ongoing process. 

This post is third in a three-part series that started with 7 Reasons Succession Planning Should Your Top Priority in 2017 followed by Who Will Be Leading Your Company in Ten Years?


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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