Succession Planning Risk

Top 5 Succession Planning Risks that Break Down Teams

Succession planning is a critical aspect of team management yet often overlooked. When succession planning goes wrong, it can harm the entire team. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of succession planning within teams and identify the top five succession planning risks that can break down teams when not addressed properly. 

From selecting the wrong candidate to neglecting time-critical leadership responsibilities, these risks can lead to a loss of knowledge, misalignment with future business needs, and underdeveloped successors. But don’t worry! We will also provide you with actionable steps that L&D leaders can take to mitigate these risks and ensure a smooth transition in leadership. Let’s dive in and protect your team from the pitfalls of ineffective succession planning.

The Importance of Succession Planning in Teams

Succession planning is important for several reasons. Firstly, it ensures the continuity and stability of an organization by identifying and developing potential leaders who can step into critical roles when needed. This helps prevent leadership gaps due to retirements, resignations, or unexpected departures.

Secondly, succession planning allows organizations to retain top talent and keep them engaged by providing clear career paths and development opportunities. When employees see a clear path for advancement within an organization, they are more likely to stay and contribute their skills and knowledge over the long term.

Furthermore, succession planning helps organizations build a strong leadership pipeline by identifying high-potential employees early on and providing them with the necessary training and experiences to prepare them for future leadership roles. It ensures a smooth transition when leaders leave and foster a culture of continuous learning and development within the organization.

Overall, succession planning is crucial for organizational success as it helps mitigate risks associated with leadership transitions, retain top talent, and build a strong bench of future leaders. By investing in succession planning, organizations can ensure long-term sustainability and growth.

Identifying the Top 5 Succession Planning Risks

Risk 1: Poor Succession Planning Process Resulting in Selecting the Wrong Candidate

A significant risk in succession planning is the absence of a well-defined and comprehensive process. Without a clear process, there is a higher likelihood of selecting an unsuitable candidate for a leadership position. It can negatively affect team morale and productivity if the chosen successor lacks the necessary skills and qualifications. To mitigate this succession planning risk, establishing a thorough succession planning process is crucial, including identifying key competencies and evaluating potential candidates against those criteria. Regularly reviewing and updating the succession plan can minimize the risk of selecting an inadequate successor.

Risk 2: Neglected Time-Critical Leadership Responsibilities Due to Vacancies

Neglecting time-critical leadership responsibilities due to vacancies is a significant risk in succession planning. When key positions are left unfilled or there is a gap in leadership, essential tasks, and responsibilities can be overlooked or delayed. It can lead to decreased productivity, missed deadlines, and broken team cohesion. To mitigate this risk, organizations should have a clear plan in place for how to handle vacancies and ensure that interim leaders are adequately trained and supported to fulfill their time-critical responsibilities.

For example, Microsoft experienced a succession planning setback when its CEO, Steve Ballmer, announced his retirement in 2013. The company struggled to find a suitable successor, leading to a period of uncertainty and multiple internal and external candidates being considered before Satya Nadella was eventually appointed as CEO.

Risk 3: Underdeveloped Successors

Underdeveloped successors pose a significant risk in succession planning to organizations as it can result in a lack of skilled leaders ready to take over key roles. This risk occurs when there is insufficient focus on training and developing potential successors within the company. Without proper development, successors may lack the necessary competencies, knowledge, and experience to effectively lead the organization. It can lead to a leadership gap, where no one is prepared to step into key positions. To mitigate this risk, organizations should invest in succession planning programs that offer mentoring, coaching, and training opportunities for potential successors.

For instance, following the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, Apple faced concerns about its succession planning strategy. While Tim Cook assumed the role of CEO, there were doubts about whether Apple could maintain its innovative edge without Jobs’ visionary leadership.

Risk 4: Misalignment of Succession Management Plans with Future Business Needs

Misalignment of succession management plans with future business needs can result in a lack of qualified candidates for key positions within the organization. This succession planning risk occurs when companies fail to assess the required skills and competencies for future roles accurately. Consequently, it may lead to a leadership gap and impede the organization’s ability to adapt to changing market conditions or industry trends. Teams should regularly review and update their succession plans to mitigate this risk, ensuring alignment with the organization’s long-term goals and objectives. This could involve identifying potential skill gaps, offering training and development opportunities, or exploring external recruitment options if necessary.

Risk 5: Loss of Knowledge and Expertise due to Lack of Proper Succession Planning

Loss of knowledge and expertise is a significant succession planning risk resulting from improper succession planning. When key employees retire or leave without suitable successors, valuable institutional knowledge can be lost, hindering the team’s effectiveness and decision-making. It can also lead to a skills gap, where no one possesses the necessary expertise to handle specific responsibilities. To mitigate this risk, organizations should prioritize succession planning, ensuring transparent knowledge transfer processes are in place to preserve critical information. By identifying and developing potential successors, companies can safeguard their workforce’s competencies and maintain continuity in leadership roles.

How Can L&D Leaders Avoid These Pitfalls?

L&D leaders should understand the organization’s succession planning goals to avoid these pitfalls. A few steps include: 

Identify High-Potential Talent:

  • Implement talent assessment processes to identify individuals with the potential for future leadership roles.
  • Look beyond technical skills and consider factors such as adaptability, strategic thinking, and leadership qualities.

Develop a Robust Leadership Development Program:

  • Create comprehensive leadership development programs that focus on developing key competencies required for future leadership roles.
  • Provide a blend of formal training, mentoring, coaching, and experiential learning opportunities.

Foster a Learning Culture:

  • Promote a culture of continuous learning and development throughout the organization.
  • Encourage employees to take ownership of their learning journey and provide resources for ongoing skill development.

Establish Succession Planning Committees:

  • Form dedicated committees comprising HR, L&D, and senior leaders to oversee and guide the succession planning process.
  • Regularly review and update succession plans based on organizational needs and talent assessments.

Encourage Cross-Functional Experiences:

  • Provide opportunities for high-potential individuals to gain exposure to different departments and functions within the organization.
  • Rotate them through diverse roles to broaden their perspective and develop a holistic understanding of the business.

Emphasize Mentoring and Successor Readiness:

  • Foster a culture of mentoring, coaching others in teams, pairing high-potential employees with experienced leaders.
  • Ensure successors are adequately prepared for their future roles through mentoring, job shadowing, and stretch assignments.

Mitigating Succession Risks: Steps for L&D Leaders

Steps for L&D leaders to mitigate succession risks include:

  • Identifying key roles and potential successors.
  • Developing a comprehensive succession plan with training and development opportunities.
  • Communicating the plan to stakeholders.
  • Continuously assessing potential successors’ progress.
  • Addressing any gaps through ongoing initiatives.
By proactively planning for the future, L&D leaders can ensure a smooth leadership transition and minimize the impact of succession planning risks on the organization’s strategic goals. It requires transparency, readiness, and a focus on building a solid bench strength of top talent within the organization. Mitigating succession risks should be a top priority for L&D leaders to secure long-term success.


In conclusion, succession planning is crucial for maintaining the stability and productivity of teams. By identifying and addressing the top 5 succession planning risks, L&D leaders can ensure a smooth transition of leadership and minimize disruptions within their organizations. It is important to have a well-defined succession planning process, invest in the development of successors, align succession management plans with future business needs, and actively preserve knowledge and expertise. By taking these steps, L&D leaders can mitigate succession risks and build strong, resilient teams. 

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