Getting Succession Planning Right

Succession planning matters. It is the most important accountability of the Board and the C-suite. When done correctly, succession planning generates an expanded pipeline of internal and external talent, positions the company for sustained growth, benchmarks executives against the competition, and attracts and retains high-potential talent.

The statistics don’t lie. 56% of organizations report a significant shortage of leaders for key positions (Deloitte, 2010). 46% of organization have no systemic process to identify and develop future leaders (IED/Stanford University, 2014). 40% of high potential promotions end in failure (Harvard Business Review, 2010). In a separate line of research conducted by Korn Ferry, we found that only 13% of skilled professionals are included in succession programs, and that 62% of organizations do not include managers in succession programs. Related to this is the fact that many organizations struggle with developing a strong bench. The three most common issues that keep organizations from building a better talent bench include: a) most executives over rate the performance of their direct reports; b) most executives confuse high performance with high potential; and c) most executives are unwilling to differentiate the development of their talent. The one size fits all approach does not work in succession planning.

At Korn Ferry, we believe succession planning is one of the most important things any organization can do. Our research and industry leading expertise focuses on: a) developing a succession management approach that can be tailored and effective at all organizational levels; b) creating a common language for inclusive and calibrated talent assessment and development; c) partnering beyond succession assessment to close any existing talent gaps through internal development and/or external recruitment; and d) establishing succession solutions that can seamlessly connect with an organization’s other talent processes to create an integrated talent strategy in support of their business imperatives.

We believe there are five critical components to an effective succession planning approach:

  1. Defining Success: A strong succession planning initiative begins with identifying what good leadership looks like today, and outlining what it will be in the future. We partner with key stakeholders in your organization to understand the strategic context and define success profiles for critical roles. Our succession profile mapping methodology leverages state of the art expertise around leadership competencies and executive behaviors that drive success. When done correctly, there should be a success profile for every key role in the c-suite. This sets the stage for leadership assessments and talent development initiatives across different levels of the organization.
  2. Validated Assessments: Once success profiles have been developed, we use industry-leading research and validated leadership assessments to gather both quantitative and qualitative data on the talent in an organization. Two of our world-class leadership assessments include the Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP) and the Voices 360. The KFALP measures the seven signposts of potential: a) formative experiences, b) learning agility, c) self-awareness, d) logic and reasoning, e) leadership traits, f) motivation to lead, and g) derailment risk. The KFALP is the most recent, powerful, and comprehensive assessment of potential on the market today. Individual reports are provided to each participant to support their development and growth as a leader. Group reports for the organization provide data for evaluating talent and input to critical people decisions. The Voices 360 is a competency-based multi-rater tool that measures the “how” of leadership. Like the KFALP, individual reports are generated that provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to support professional development and career planning. Our group reports provide a picture of current leadership and possible cultural implications to support organizational talent management decisions.
  3. Structured Interviews: Following the completion of online leadership assessments (KFALP and Voices 360), Korn Ferry will conduct both market and behavioral interviews using the results of the online assessments to develop customer interview guides. These interviews provide an in-depth understanding of the capabilities and potential limitations of each individual and his/her alignment with the unique demands of the organization’s strategy, culture, and organizational objectives (as documented in the Success Profiles). The market capability interview is conducted by an Executive Search Partner who has extensive experience in the industry or functional area of expertise. A Leadership Consultant conducts the behavioral assessment interview to probe for the requisite leadership skills, competencies, traits, and drivers relevant for the new situation.
  4. Executive Presentations: Once the structured interviews have been completed, our team will prepare customized individual reports as well as group roll-up reports to be shared with organizational sponsors of the succession planning program. In putting together the assessment reports we benchmark the results against our normative database and the organization’s specific criteria. Our group roll-up reports provide a snapshot of a leader’s 360-degree feedback separated by manager, peer, and direct report categories. Additionally, we provide a summary of potential leveraging insights from the KFALP. Lastly, we outline the top three strengths and development opportunities for the leader, and provide a readiness score for taking on increased leadership responsibility and scope.
  5. Participant Feedback: After group-level feedback has been shared with program sponsors, we provide insightful individual feedback to all program participants. Leaders are taken through two in-depth reports that cover their results from the KFALP and the Voices 360. They are also provided with recommendations to begin to outline a personal development plan. Our feedback process leaves program participants with a clear roadmap for their growth and development. By leveraging data from the succession planning assessment process, leaders can take the necessary steps to broaden their leadership skills and readiness for scale.

Succession planning is critical to the long-term success and viability of any organization. When leaders miss the mark on succession they run the risk of losing key talent in an ever-changing global employment market. When leaders do it correctly, they create an internal pipeline of future leaders that will have the requisite skills needed to succeed in the future.

Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

For more information about this or other leadership topics, visit our website at

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.