Succession Planning Not Limited to C-Suite, Survey Shows

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 22, 2008

When it comes to feeding that leadership pipeline, nearly half of large organizations that perform succession planning are extending it to the middle-manager level, according to new research.

The survey results, released Feb. 8, 2008, are from a nationwide Internet survey of 2,556 senior HR and training and development executives conducted in December 2007 for Novations Group, a global consultancy firm based in Boston.

Three-fourths of large organizations perform succession planning; among that number, 63 percent focus on the senior level, but 46 percent have broadened that to include mid-level managers.

Making plans for an organization’s future leadership has morphed from looking solely at the C-suite into managing the succession for an organization’s entire leadership pipeline, Novations executive consultant Tom McKinnon said in a press statement.

“Expanding succession management to take in middle managers and to develop them helps assure that key roles below the C-suite have ready replacements,” he stated.

Research that Bersin & Associates released in 2007 found similar results. Although succession planning for most organizations tends to focus at the top end—64 percent of 750 companies it surveyed have such plans for senior executives—26 percent are using it for first-line managers and 47 percent for functional leaders.

They are doing so, according to Bersin & Associates “as a key component of enterprise talent strategies and a proactive defense to talent shortages.”

In addition, more women and minorities are being represented in succession plans, the research found.

“Women at this point have the same or greater representation as their percent in the workforce at 58 percent of companies,” up from 54 percent two years ago, McKinnon noted.

The number of minorities represented in succession planning is 54 percent, up from 44 percent two years ago.

However, “minorities are still under-represented at 46 percent of organizations [surveyed], which isn’t acceptable,” he pointed out.

Common Elements

Effective succession planning has the following common elements, according to a paper McKinnon and Novations colleagues Michelle Harrison and Paul Terry wrote:

  • Criteria that adheres to the organization’s definition of critical leadership capability.
  • A consistent, specific readiness assessment process based on those criteria.
  • A guide for individual development for those in the plan.
  • Well-defined roles and responsibilities for those responsible for succession planning.
  • Regular reviews of the plan and its effectiveness.

Increasingly, succession planning is connected to leadership development, McKinnon stated, “so rather than being an annual exercise that sits on a shelf until the next round, succession management is now pursued year round.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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