Succession Planning at Most Companies Is Sorely Lacking, Surveyed Executives Say

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Feb. 10 — Executives who should know best admit their own organizations are doing a terrible job of succession planning, according to a survey released Feb. 4 by Korn Ferry.

A minority (36 percent) of 1,009 survey respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their organization's succession planning, and just 23 percent reported having “a solid pipeline of ‘ready now' candidates,” the Los Angeles-based leadership and talent consulting company said in announcing the results of a 54-nation survey it conducted last August and September.

Moreover, over three-quarters (78 percent) of respondents said their companies only bother planning for the need to replace executives at the rank of vice president or higher, and almost half said they “are more dependent on outside hires than internal promotions” to fill executive positions.

Succession planning programs' major flaw is that they are often too static, R.J. Heckman, president of Korn Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting business, said in the Feb. 4 statement.

Making Succession Planning Succeed

Jim Peters, Korn Ferry senior partner and global lead for succession management, in a Feb. 10 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA offered the following tips to ensure more dynamic succession planning:

• “align leadership competencies and target profiles to the long-term business strategy”;

• “assess multiple generations of candidates in the pipeline against target profiles using valid indicators or potential and industry benchmarks”;

• “think multiple moves ahead—don’t just seek to replace incumbents”;

• “cross-train generations of leaders with a mix of on-the-job training, intensive coaching, mentoring and education”;

• “become intimately familiar with the talent pipeline,” including the potential and development needs of individuals within it; and

• “make succession a key priority for both the organization and the individual—think risk mitigation.”


When asked how deep in an organization succession planning should go, Peters responded: “We used to have about 20 years to groom a senior person. Now, because of technology, globalization and retiring baby boomers, that has shrunk to eight or nine years. I like to tell CEOs that at any point in time, there are seven CEOs in your organization—you, a few in your executive team plus several others, with one being a first-level leader in Mumbai. So the answer is—very deep.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at


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