Current State

Only 36% of organizations, on average, believe succession planning for key leader roles at each level of the organization is effective, according to Brandon Hall Group’s study, Great Leaders: How Do We Develop More?

Percentage of Organizations Rating Succession Planning for Key Leader Roles Effective


There is a lack of agreement in about half of organizations on the key behaviors valued in a great leader. It’s very difficult to identify high-potential leaders or develop current ones if you can’t agree on what you are looking for. On top of that, Brandon Hall Group research shows that leaders struggle to find time to learn, reflect and make themselves a priority.

If identifying the key attributes of great leaders is a source of debate and there is scant time allocated for leaders to learn, it’s very difficult to have confidence that you are developing a pipeline of leaders ready and able to move the organization forward.

Important or Critical to Improve Elements of Succession Planning

Critical Question

How can we improve the consistency and quality of leadership at every level of the organization?

Brandon Hall Group POV

Succession planning is an integral part of building a deep leader pipeline. Organizations often view it largely through the lens of talent reviews, usually held once or twice a year. In reality, succession planning is a continuous, integrated talent management process. Based on our 2021 quantitative leader development studies and scores of interviews, here are six recommendations for improving succession planning.

Create One Leadership Model for How Leaders Think and Act. To build a strong leader pipeline, leaders at all levels must execute on core leader competencies that the organization values. Proficiency levels will evolve as leaders develop, but behaviors such as emotional intelligence, empathy, collaboration, building trust and others should be taught consistently across the enterprise.

Focus on Potential, Not Performance. Many organizations place people in the succession pool based on performance in their current jobs. But success in one position is not necessarily a good predictor of success in another. Brandon Hall Group research shows that potential is far more important than performance in developing employees for future roles. We advocate looking at potential through the lens of:

  • Aspiration What employees want is very important because they will be more motivated to succeed. For example, someone might be a talented midlevel manager who looks good on paper for a senior manager role. But what if the employee does not aspire to that? What if their goals are different?
  • Engagement How engaged are employees in the organization and in their roles? Do they give discretionary effort? Do they collaborate well in projects, teams and learning situations? The level of engagement can tell a lot about employees’ interest and potential for taking on more responsibility.
  • Capabilities. Employees’ capabilities, competencies and capacity are important in determining potential but discerning capabilities transcend job performance. It includes skills and experiences beyond their current roles.

Improve the Quality and Frequency of Manager-Employee Career Discussions. It is difficult to have a full understanding of employees’ capabilities, level of engagement and aspirations without managers developing a strong rapport with the team members and having regular discussions about how employees are doing, what they want and need from development opportunities and what are their long-term goals. Managers should coach employees and help them think critically about what they do and what they want by asking questions. Seeing how employees respond to coaching is another revealing way to assess potential.

Create Varied Opportunities for Employees to Demonstrate Potential. It’s important to give employees projects, stretch assignments or temporary team roles to see what they can do — and what they like to do — beyond what they do now. If employees flounder or are not highly engaged, that says something about their potential even though their job performance may be stellar.

Develop an Assessment Strategy to Help Identify Potential Leaders. Formal assessments can provide quantitative insights on skills, behavioral traits and motivations. To be beneficial, there must be consensus on their value, which assessments to use, the time frames in which they are given and how they will be analyzed and utilized.

Make Talent Reviews an Ongoing Process. Talent reviews tend to be annual or semiannual pro forma exercises. Our research interviews show that organizations struggle to get managers engaged in these reviews and the review team often does not have all the information they need to make wise and reasoned decisions. Reviewing potential, similar to learning, is a continuous process in which new information is gathered over time through manager-employee check-ins, employees’ participation in informal, formal and experiential learning, assessments and other data.


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Claude Werder

Claude Werder oversees Brandon Hall Group's analyst team, new product development, corporate development, the HCM Excellence Conference 2015, publishing, and social media and marketing strategies for Brandon Hall Group. In that role, he manages Brandon Hall Group’s research priorities, Membership Program and Member Center, and Brandon Hall Group’s exclusive KnowledgeBases of research data and HCM solution providers, services and products.