7 Signs Your Succession Planning is Failing Your Business

Last time, I shared the 3 keys to building your bench strength for effective succession planning.

But when it comes to succession planning, how do you know that what you’re currently doing isn’t working?

When we think about why succession plans fail, we can put it into 7 broad strokes.

1. The organization isn’t hitting its strategic objectives. Certainly, there could be many reasons for this that have nothing to do with succession planning. But if you find that you’re not developing the right talent in-house or identifying the right talent to bring in, succession planning certainly has an element of not just growing your own but learning how to fill the void. If you’re not getting the high-level talent you need, the bottom line is that it’s going to directly impact your business objectives.

For example, I currently have two hospitality-related business owners in their 70s as prospective clients right now. Whenever the owners try to step away, the business tanks. To me, that’s a sign of a complete lack of any succession plan and training of staff that would continue the processes the owners have put in place which have made them successful for decades.

When knowledge isn’t being transferred appropriately, that’s clearly a succession planning challenge and it has huge impacts on hitting your strategic objectives.

2. Key managers complain about a shortage of talent in the organization. If you read my previous blog, you already know that career development is a big component of succession planning. If you don’t have key talent being developed in-house and you don’t know where to go to find it externally, you’ve got a failing succession planning system.

In certain industries, there is a lack of key talent because folks aren’t going into those fields. That’s a separate issue. If you know that the talent is out there but you don’t have it and can’t seem to get it, a lack of developing your people may be one key component causing that shortage.

3. Your culture is failing you. If you have a culture where talent management is low on the totem pole, you don’t put an emphasis on career development, you don’t offer training opportunities whether it’s in-house activities or external seminars, and you look at talent management initiatives as costs instead of investments in people, you generally have a failing system.

When I talk to business owners who have that viewpoint, they often don’t have succession planning at all because a key component of it is developing people. If talent management is a low priority for the business, then that’s a sign of a failing system.

4. Employee satisfaction and morale is going down. This is directly related to culture. There can be many drivers of this, but the key here, especially with the younger workforce, is development opportunities. If you’re not offering development opportunities to help employees get better at their jobs and acquire new skills, it makes sense that satisfaction will go down.

People get tired of doing the same job for years on end. When organizations tell me that they’re having employee morale issues, I ask: how are you developing your people?

5. You can’t recruit the talent you want. The big mistake many make is believing that succession planning is nothing more than tapping the heir apparent to a vacant position. But succession planning certainly deals with our ability to recruit talent to fill voids.

If you’re having problems recruiting people, of course it could be a symptom of many different things. It could be related to pay, benefits, or location. But it certainly means that you haven’t set up a succession planning system that has identified the appropriate types of people to recruit and the appropriate places to find them.

6. You can’t retain the talent you have. This is the kissing cousin of not being able to recruit people. If you know that talent management drives employee engagement, your ability to retain people often comes back to a lack of advancement opportunities.

Advancement opportunities are just one piece— pay, benefits, relationship with management, etc. are all part of it, too.

But people know whether there’s an opportunity to grow with the company or not. Today’s workforce is much more mobile. 20 years ago, someone with 5 jobs in 10 years was a “job hopper.” Today, that’s not such a terrible thing.

Often, people “job hop” to gain the advancement they’re unable to get if they stick with just one organization. If we can advance our own people by putting time into their development, that may be the better option.

7. You have a tarnished employment brand. This is a new concept for many organizations, but large companies usually get this.

Think about one of your favorite products. Let’s say it’s Starbucks, your go-to coffee joint. You like the atmosphere, you like the coffee, whatever it is. That’s a product brand.

An employment brand is similar. What attracts employees to you? What is it about your culture, product, service, talent management, etc. that makes people say, “I want to work for that organization?”

If people are running out the back door just as fast as you’re getting them in the front, that tells me that you have a tarnished employment brand. You’re not an employer of choice, and that’s a symptom of a succession planning system that’s failing.

When I look at this list of 7 concepts, many of them intertwine. I may not see all 7 signs in an organization, but it’s not uncommon to see 2, 3, or 4 of them creeping up as signs that something is wrong.

I want to stress that all these concepts could be symptoms of different things going wrong with the HR business plan, but they’re definitely signs that we need to at least look at the succession planning piece of the plan because we know there is a leadership crisis. It’s not a theoretical something to worry about years from now. Many companies are struggling to find the future leaders of their organizations today.

Now that you know the signs that your succession planning is failing, next time we’ll cover the top 10 ideas for setting up your succession plan to secure the future of your organization.