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Succession planning in the era of The Great Resignation

As employees reassess their relationship with their work, the C-suite is not immune to The Great Resignation, making succession planning even more important.

Of the 1,000 HR directors polled in a survey at the end of last year, 46 percent reported that managers and directors were leaving their organisations at a faster rate than entry-level employees, highlighting how The Great Resignation is manifesting itself in the upper tiers of business.

Developing a leadership pipeline

According to Gartner’s research, organisations with poor succession planning are hindered by a weak leadership pipeline and grow their revenue only half as fast as their better-prepared competitors. However, while 62 percent of leaders rank managing top talent as their key priority, only 13 percent of organisations are confident that they are doing a good job at it.

4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November 2021—an “all-time-high” since the record-keeping began in 2000, which calls for the development of people for critical roles—especially in senior positions. Employees are interested in professional development, and organisations are looking to hire and develop employees who can step into leadership roles - so where is the disconnect?

At times, succession planning is minimised as organisations don’t want the process to be perceived as a lack of confidence in their current executives. At the same time, executives can be hesitant to raise the idea of succession planning as they don’t want to be seen as signalling their future intentions – all of which can be destabilising.

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) suggests that when organisations offer comprehensive training to employees, they experience a profit margin 24 percent higher than those that spend less time on training and development activities, and they build diversity in leadership ranks at the same time. However, many organisations don’t have a comprehensive plan on how to fully develop their prospective leaders, which limits their top talent’s advancement and eventually their engagement and, ultimately, leads to turnover. Low engagement and high turnover can be costly for organisations, especially if the employees leaving are high potentials in whom much has already been invested.

Leadership skills that matter

The foundation of effective succession planning is the integration of the overall leadership and talent strategy with the business strategy, and it needs to incorporate robust talent reviews, including the assessment of potential and identification of the capabilities of a broad base of the organisation’s talent, not just a select few. This ultimately leads to organisations being in a position of looking outside for new talent only when they choose to, rather than when they are forced to.

The potential gains of successful succession go far beyond the obvious result of having a steady pipeline of leaders ready to step into new roles. They include a more diverse portfolio of leaders, greater engagement, stronger organisational culture, stability, and resilience.

The choice and cultivation of its future leaders are vital to any organisation; however, an alarming number of newly appointed leaders fail, ill-prepared to do the job. In today’s rapidly changing environment, the need for new skills is apparent and upskilling can provide as much value for meeting employee development needs for some employees as preparing them to move into other roles.

Employees want connection and purpose, not a transactional relationship with their leadership team, which requires today’s succession plans to consider people’s needs and the business’s needs. Leaders become great because others chose to follow them, and people follow those whom they feel are authentic, care about their well-being, create psychological safety, align with their values, and hold others and the organisation accountable to shared company values.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering 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 through 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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