Succession plans are lacking at all levels in organizations, survey suggests

Nearly two-thirds of executives say replacing them would require external hiring

Posted September 8, 2015

While people continue to quit their jobs in high numbers, research suggests few employers have backup plans should star performers leave their company. In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, only 10 percent of accounting and finance professionals reported there was someone internally who could easily step in to fill their role if they quit. Half of respondents said the company would need to hire an outside candidate to fill the position. That number goes up among the executive ranks, where nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say their companies would have to hire someone new to replace them.

"Succession planning may feel like a long-term initiative, but the pain felt watching a star employee walk out the door with no backup in place is immediate and costly," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. "Having no 'Plan B' puts the business at risk, particularly at the executive level, where it can take a significant amount of time to replace someone."

McDonald noted that although establishing succession plans throughout the enterprise can be complex, small steps make a big difference. "Executives and business owners can start by asking managers for succession plans specific to their teams, and use this input to form a broader organizational strategy," he said. "Cross-training staff also can prepare employees to take on new roles."

McDonald added, "For companies who find themselves with a sudden vacancy in an important role, bringing in a consultant can fill the gap while a search is conducted or an employee is groomed for the position."

Accounting and finance professionals were asked, "Is there someone at your current company who could easily step in and do your job if you were to quit?" Their responses:

  Total Executive Management Staff Entry-Level
Yes, someone internal could easily step in 10% 8% 9% 15% 14%
Yes, but training would be required 40% 27% 39% 50% 57%
No, the company would need to hire externally 50% 64% 52% 34% 29%
  100% 99% 100% 99% 100%
*Responses do not total 100 percent due to rounding.

Robert Half Management Resources offers five additional tips to help businesses enhance their succession planning:

  1. Start during the hiring process. In addition to the open position, think about the types of advanced roles job candidates could grow into over time. Also, gauge applicants' interest in building a career with your firm and their leadership skills.
  2. Take a wide view. Only looking at the top of the company for succession planning is a mistake. Instead, develop plans for all levels. In the process, you'll identify up-and-comers aspiring to join the management ranks.
  3. Check with employees. Talk to staff members about their goals, and identify specific steps they can take to reach their objectives. This is also motivational and can help with retention.
  4. Bolster professional development. Building out succession plans will help you more easily identify skills gaps and the training needed to address them.
  5. Communicate openly. Let staff know about your goal of preparing them for roles of increasing responsibility, making this a reward for their contributions. Explain the succession process — including what is expected of them and what they can expect from you — and provide prompt updates if there are changes along the way.

About the Survey

The online survey was developed and conducted by Robert Half Management Resources. It includes responses from more than 1,100 accounting and finance professionals in the United States.

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