John Hollon takes a look at the miserable state of succession planning. Most companies don’t and the number who don’t is increasing.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a company that doesn’t do succession planning. The question is whether it is a formal process or done informally. People with an administrative bent want to see it done according to rules and regulations. More structured planning produces better results, they opine.
Savvy business leaders have noticed that the person in the succession plan rarely gets the job. That’s generally because succession planning is a theory and succession always happens at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances. Those damned downturns and upturns in the economy play havoc with the best laid plans of mice and men.
Part of the problem is a deep misunderstanding of the planning process. Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” What he meant was that the plan itself rarely materializes but that the act of planning is critical for navigating the ups and downs of war or business.
Succession planning can’t be managed in the same way that a sales plan is. Much of contemporary planning and forecasting is a negotiation process between organizational levels. The governance of an organization (and the replacement strategies for key leaders) can’t be managed that way. Instead of a fixed answer, good succession planning is a conversation, not a document.