Succession Planning – A Game of You’re It?


Tag! You’re it! This is the mantra of a childhood game, we have all played. Of course, the objective to the game of tag is to be tagged. This idea can be true in the workplace as well. Some people do not want to be “tagged” for the next position up via promotion. Of course, there are others who might be running toward the person who is the current “it.” That is to say, they want and work hard to achieve that next promotion. Unfortunately, many organizations run successions more like a game of tag than a serious process deserving of attention. This creates chaos, low morale, and can have a negative impact on profits. Good succession planning takes just that – a plan.

Let’s Start at the Top

Replacing a CEO is not as easy as a game of tag and it can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. The Board is most certainly involved in hiring an organization’s next leader or most certainly should play a large role. Unfortunately, often, the Board simply doesn’t have access to pertinent information to help with replacing such an important role. Many times, Board Members don’t spend a lot of time on site and this is especially true for large and global organizations. Further, Board Members may have limited knowledge of possible successors working within the organization. The CEO may be providing information on who he/she thinks should be selected for their own successor. If the current CEO simply wants to hire a “yes man” so that the current CEO virtually continues to run the company, this could spell disaster.

In many cases Board Members receive compensation for serving. Therefore, they should have expectations of being involved in the succession process for the CEO. Even if members receive no monetary compensation, part of their service is to participate in a knowledgeable way with succession planning. Members in either capacity who fail in their due diligence should not be on your Board.

Two Plans

Every organization should have two succession plans in place, one for planned situations and one for emergency situations. If proper hiring, development, and vetting for succession planning is consistent in your organization, then planned successions should not be an issue. However, people have their own emergencies and must leave the organization for some personal reason or tragically, sudden and unexpected death can occur. Other tragedies can wipe out several key members of leadership like 9/11 or plane crashes like the one in 1989 involving two layers of leadership of the Scandinavian shipping company, Wilhelmsen. Being properly prepared can prevent total chaos and revenue disruption.

Let’s Also Start at the Beginning

Using good hiring tools, techniques, and processes can help succession planning right from the start and can prevent promotion as a game of Tag. We need to consider skills, no doubt about that. However, are you hiring individuals who fit your culture, who are future oriented, and who have loyalty? Are the people you hire persistent, consistent, and good problem solvers? Do the people you hire have the talent or key performance indicators that fit your long-term strategic plan?

Another important attribute to consider is Emotional Quotient (EQ). Some organizations concentrate on hiring brilliant people. Sometimes brilliant people can have tunnel vision about their own brilliance and develop blind spots about other people. Therefore, their EQ suffers. EQ is not valid as a hiring tool, but there are scientifically-based instruments on the market today that need to be part of employee development and EQ needs to be a value of your organizational culture. People leave organizations more because of a poor manager. Losing good people, regardless of whether they are brilliant or a “worker bee,” can play havoc with any organization’s succession plan – not to mention the bottom line.

Tag Internally – But Wisely

Any manager loves reports who do a good job. Many managers are eager to reward those who go above and beyond. Still others just want a warm body in a position that becomes vacant so they don’t have to pick up the slack. Depending on which study you read, new managers have a failure rate as high as 50%. Just because someone does a good job, doesn’t make them a manager, and it certainly does make them a leader. If you are considering promoting someone on your team to supervisor, make sure you do two things:

  1. Make sure the person is looking to “climb the ladder” and is, at the very least, willing to take on additional responsibility.
  2. Give the person the training he or she needs. Period. Setting people up forfailure doen’st make you look like a leader either. ‘Nuff said.

Tag – You’re It!

I’m tagging you to take control of your succession planning. Ensure that your Board stays abreast of who is in your pipeline for the CEO position in both a planned or emergency situation. Use tools and techniques available to help you identify and develop the right talent for promotions. Promote wisely. Be sure all of your leaders at every level have an abundance of EQ.

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Graphic Credit:


Schepker, D.J., Nybert, A.J., Ulrich, M.D., Wright, P.M. (2018). Planning for Future Leadership: Procedural, Rationality, Formulized Succession Planning Process, ad CEO Influence and CEO Succession Planning. Academy of Management Journal Vo. 161, No. 2, 523-552.