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Succession Planning

Trends In Succession Planning

Your employees are an extremely valuable asset to your organization. Investing time into mentoring, training and giving them stretch assignments to build their leadership skills will pay off for your organization when it comes time to filling upper-level positions down the road.

Your employees are an extremely valuable asset to your organization. Investing time into mentoring, training and giving them stretch assignments to build their leadership skills will pay off for your organization when it comes time to filling upper-level positions down the road.

Your most talented and qualified people might start in an entry-level position. Helping them develop and lead gives you an advantage in retaining them, because it’s not like there’s nowhere else for them to go–everyone is looking for talent. If you don’t recognize and nurture the talent you already have, it will be snatched up by someone else, leaving you with a costly, time-consuming search for someone new.


There are a couple of camps when it comes to who should be on the succession plan: those who identify high-potential employees and focus resources on them and those who assume every employee has potential to move up.

By focusing on just a few employees with high-potential means your organization can devote more time and resources to their mentoring and training. The few select will be better ready to take over when the time comes.

The downside with this approach is that you might fail to recognize potential and actually end up alienating and frustrating your most talented but overlooked employees. If you have a solid hiring practice, anyone you bring on board has potential to learn and lead. Don’t rule anyone out too early.


If your succession plan is to post the job when your current leaders leave, try again. Hiring from within proves to be more successful than bringing in an outside candidate.

A recent study by University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Matthew Bidwell shows that outside candidates cost more to hire, are paid more, get lower ratings on performance the first two years on the job, and are more likely to leave than inside candidates. They are 61% more likely to be laid off or fired.

Don’t let your organization get stuck in a position where an internal hire isn’t possible. The time and energy you put into training and mentoring lower level employees will pay off for you in the future.


For a succession plan to be successful, everyone needs to understand the value and support succession planning. If top management doesn’t understand the importance of succession planning, they need to be educated about the value and convinced to actively support the efforts.

Making a business case for succession planning should not be too difficult considering all the advantages:

  • Recognizing and nurturing talent creates higher productivity and better moral.
  • Succession planning gives you a competitive advantage.
  • If downsizing is necessary, you know who you need to hold on to.
  • By discussing strengths and current leadership you can improve company culture.
  • Helps predict which leadership roles will need to be filled and when.
  • Succession planning increases your pool of talented employees.


In some organizations, executives are tasked with identifying and training their own replacements. Leaders not only identify who they see has high potential for filling their role, but also identify growth opportunities for them that include classroom training, on the job training, mentoring and coaching.

Aside from creating excellent leaders, a succession plan where leadership is actively involved with the talent development of lower level employees creates a positive supportive company culture.

Succession planning is important for companies and organizations of all sizes. The goal is longevity and smooth transitions when leaders step out and new ones step in. Promoting from within is the best way to ensure the new leader has the right talents and understands the company culture. Not only will succession planning improve your organization’s chances for survival in a talent war, but it will create a great culture that will help you attract and keep the brightest employees.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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