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This is why potential successors’ engagement is crucial for leadership succession planning


Some organisations attempt to engage in leadership succession planning with a considerable level of secrecy, perhaps to the extent that potential successors are not even aware of their status as such. This means that all aspects of succession planning are undertaken by a small and secretive group of senior executives and human resources professionals. Everything, from identifying critical positions and considering future job requirements, to assessing possible successors and creating focused development plans, might be pushed forward without the select group of successors having any knowledge of the trust being shown in their abilities.


This approach may be used because of a belief that identifying potential successors publicly (and, by implication, identifying those who aren’t leadership contenders too) produces workplace friction and damages employee engagement. The logic is that those marked out as successor material will gain a perhaps inflated opinion of their own current status within an organisation, while those passed over will believe there is little faith being shown in their future potential. This might produce potential successors who are no longer motivated to succeed - so sure in themselves that they’ve already been anointed - alongside remaining staff who believe themselves to have no long-term future in the organisation.




The logic of this approach is, however, far from fool-proof and an organisation without a degree of transparency in the process will often run into greater problems in the succession process. Not least that for employees not party to the secret process, the outward appearance is that the organisation has no plan for succession. This can create greater unnecessary uncertainty when a senior leader or crucial position-holder does move on, and leaves the organisation looking unprepared for changing circumstances.


A secretive process also means that potential successors have no engagement with the process – meaning they have very limited control or interaction with the development plan being laid out for them. Whether this incorporates formal leadership training, coaching and mentoring support, or job secondments aimed at broadening experience, the participants are unlikely to engage with it as fully as they would if they were actively involved.




Being secretive also creates the impression that leadership positions are something of a locked-room, largely unreachable to all but a select few. While, of course, everyone is not destined to be a leader, a more transparent succession plan allows an organisation to regularly review progress and visibly move candidates in and out of the process as performance might demand. This means you are able to both remove candidates who have plateaued and stagnated after a certain level, while moving in others whose performance has accelerated in response to the prospect of being considered.


Rabei Wazeh, Executive Director, Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG)
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