The majority of HR heads are facing challenges in succession planning, as businesses struggle to get adequate buy-in from the C-suite.

New research from talent insight experts Armstrong Craven reveals that 93 percent of HR and talent teams are experiencing succession planning challenges.

These include identifying the key skills for future leaders, obtaining necessary budget and not creating the right talent pipelines to respond to future needs.

The survey also found that overwhelmingly CEOs and Boards are not responsible for succession planning

Nearly three-quarters of CEOs and 71 percent of boards are not actively supporting or participating in succession planning strategies.

On top of this, 29 percent of HR respondents say it is a challenge to get succession planning buy-in from the CEO, while 24 percent say the same about the wider board.


Succession planning

the research also found that found that only 24 percent of HR professionals described their organisation as ‘very proficient’ when it came to succession planning, while 95 percent said their plans struggled to deliver on key areas. Some of the challenges included:

  • Having trouble understanding the key skills needed from future leaders (cited by 27% of HR professionals).
  • HR/talent leaders struggling to gain budget to turn succession plans into actions (cited by 36%).
  • Succession plans not creating sufficient or adequate talent pipelines to respond to sudden changes in business needs (cited by 39%).
  • Obtaining buy-in from managers who are concerned they are having to identify their own potential replacements (cited by 28%).
  • Succession planning goals and criteria not aligning between the board and executive teams (cited by 22%).

“Incomplete data and lack of formal succession processes are an underlying problem. 23% of the survey respondents – many of which were senior leaders in large UK organisations – said that they lack internal data to support planning, while over one in eight (13%) lack external data to support planning or benchmarking. 29% also lack a mechanism to accurately assess leadership, making it harder to understand what is right for their business,” says Co-Managing Director at Armstrong Craven, Peter Howarth.


Armstrong Craven’s five key actions to support CEOs, Boards and CHROs

  1. Mind the gap. CEO’s may well have hand-picked their own successor, believing they have fulfilled their obligations. Many may assume that the Leadership Team will have done the same. With this in mind, ensure there is no gap in planning and that mechanisms are in place to validate the depth of any succession choices.
  2. Leaders ‘identifying their own replacements’ is an emotive issue. To support this, foster a culture of openness and transparency from the CEO and Board down, leading by example and encouraging teams to continually improve. The reality of this is difficult, but consistent reinforcement and good external data play essential parts in creating a culture where hiring exceptional external talent is part of normal operations.
  3. Exceptional talent is scarce and they are being approached for new roles daily. This means right now is a good time to raise this issue with the Board. Socialising new talent and building relationships, ahead of need and without pressure of interviews, allows leaders to better connect with future potential leaders. This will make attracting talent much easier should a vacancy arise. Taking a proactive approach in this way stands out – companies can make serious headway in attracting the best talent.
  4. The pandemic and move to hybrid working has led to a requirement for new leadership skills in many businesses. These skills are often characterised by high EQ and remote leadership expertise – which are hard to find. This is combined with a rapid rise in scale and scope of digitisation programmes. In response, it’s important for businesses to realise they need different skills in their leadership teams, that those skills are in huge demand, and working proactively, in advance, is essential.

“The need for robust succession planning to build resilience against future shocks has become much more pressing since the pandemic. Yet businesses are coming up against a myriad of issues and challenges around succession planning, such as executive pay and remuneration, ESG, investor activism, embracing new leadership styles and hybrid working practices in addition to traditional attraction and retention challenges. Organisations need to ensure they are not lax in planning – and this includes ensuring they have Leadership Team support,” says Co-Managing Director at Armstrong Craven, Rachel Davis.






Editor at HRreview

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.