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Preparing for the future: The importance of succession planning

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the immediate succession of her son Charles revealed significant lessons from the British monarchy about leadership transitions for organisations and leaders.

Leadership transitions can be difficult on all levels of an organisation. Whether they are planned or unexpected, leadership transitions can create uncertainty if they are not handled strategically, effectively, and efficiently. The continuity and success of the organisation rely on developing and selecting the right leaders.

Succession planning is a critical process that many organisations neglect and often treat as a one-off event triggered by the abrupt departure of a leader. As a result, the steps that follow are reactive and divorced from the standard leadership development and talent management process. This approach, however, brings significant risks, such as organisations gaining a damaging reputation for not developing their management ranks or for potential talent being overlooked.

Having a succession plan in place helps to prevent the negative consequences of losing valuable leadership by ensuring that the leader’s knowledge, skills, and experience are effectively transferred to new leaders. Succession planning also helps ensure that an appropriate amount of time is available for a new leader to learn their role within an organisation before assuming full responsibility for it. The key steps to establishing a succession plan include:

1.Identify future leaders

The transition to the top is demanding, with 40 percent of CEOs failing within the first 18 months of being promoted or hired. For some, this high-profile leadership transition is more than they bargained for, with 61 percent of executives unable to meet the strategic challenges they face.

Succession planning helps organisations identify employees with unique abilities that could help them move up to higher executive roles. The possibility of creating successors within the organisation allows senior management to make changes without being affected by a lack of qualified people. This is beneficial in organisations where knowledge is specific, as replacements who come from the same background understand its operations inside out and are better placed to undertake specific executive roles.

2. Address competency gaps

A recent CEO survey showed that only 28 percent of respondents stated they were adequately prepared for the job, which signals that there is something fundamental missing in the internal hiring and development process.

Strategic succession planning can help an organisation identify gaps in competency, which may occur due to a lack of employees with specific skills, current needs for key executive positions, or key competencies that may be needed in the future. The strategic succession planning process helps organisations to structure training or talent management programs to ensure they are prepared to perform more demanding functions.

3. Manage the transition

The exit of a key leadership team member can be either beneficial or detrimental to an organisation, depending on what happens next. People are resistant to change when they don’t fully understand what’s happening and communication about the impact of any leadership transition is essential. Change can be emotionally intense, often creating confusion, frustration, or anxiety, and as a result, it can put into motion a cycle that leads to even greater resistance to change.

Whilst communication is often focused on how the transition will result in a better future, it is equally important to emphasise the continuity and what will remain the same, despite the potential uncertainty ahead, as a result of the change at the top.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering training and development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops, and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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