How to Sell Succession to Your CEO


70% of succession planning initiatives fail within two years because they lose support from senior leadership.

Succession planning is a significant strategic process that will impact the ongoing success of an entire organization. That’s why it’s so important to sell succession planning to your CEO. At SIGMA, we won’t deliver our Succession Planning Launch Series unless the CEO is in the room for both sessions. We do this because succession plans often fail to gain the attention, resources, and priority they need when they don’t have CEO support.

Get Your CEO on Board with Succession Planning

If you think there’s a need for succession planning in your organization, you’re probably right. Use our checklist to see whether your CEO might be getting in the way of succession. If they are, follow these three easy steps to get your boss on board and sell succession to your CEO:

  1. Demonstrate the need for a succession planning process
  2. Communicate the value of a proper succession plan
  3. Provide a framework that makes succession planning feasible
CEO Succession Planning Checklist

1. Demonstrate the Need

CEOs have a lot on their plate. The best way to sell succession planning to your CEO is to make a business case for succession. Have your CEO complete our At-A-Glance Succession Bench Tool for a quick way to identify the strength of your leadership bench. These templates will give you an idea of your organization’s exposure to turnover at the leadership level, as well as how ready potential succession candidates are.  Use your At-A-Glance Succession Bench to start meaningful discussions around “what would happen if ______ left our organization tomorrow?” This conversation should instill a sense of urgency and make the need for a succession plan more tangible.

How to sell succession planning to your CEO – Succession Bench Template

After demonstrating a need for succession planning, you may need to convince your CEO that whatever “system” they have in place, isn’t proper succession planning at all. Work through our Are You Engaging in Succession Planning checklist with your CEO.  Help them understand that replacement hiring makes it difficult for employees to predict if they are being considered for promotion, and when that promotion might be. As such, it may be difficult to retain talented individuals looking to advance. Replacement hiring also does not inherently plan for employees to develop their skills or enhance their abilities, making it difficult to establish an internal pool of talent. Without the long-term approach of succession planning, candidates may not be ready to take on the position they are given in replacement hiring. Therefore, this results in potential costs and delays for the company as new leaders learn the ropes of their role.

Is your company engaging in succession planning?

2. Communicate the Value

After understanding the need for a succession plan, it’s important for CEOs to grasp the benefits of a proper planning process. These benefits include:

  • Greater stakeholder confidence in corporate leadership
  • Stable or improved market value, compared to drops associated with unplanned succession (replacement hiring)
  • Improved knowledge translation
  • Stronger employee buy-in and better employee morale
  • Reduced transition/onboarding time
  • Less risk of unplanned succession forcing replacement hiring
  • Ability to promote internally
  • Stronger leadership bench and larger internal talent pool
  • Corporate culture that attracts talented staff looking for advancement opportunities

For more information about the benefit of succession planning and the risk of not having a plan, read our blogs, Succession in Uncertain Times and A Good Succession Plan Saves Money.

3. Provide Your CEO With a Framework

The last step to sell succession to your CEO is to present them with a feasible plan to follow. SIGMA has worked with corporate leaders across North America, and what they continuously tell us is that they struggle to plan for tomorrow because they can hardly keep up with the demands of today.

The Cost of Not Having a Plan

If your leaders are still not sure whether succession planning is worth the cost, take a look at the summary below to see what the cost of unplanned succession may be. Download the infographic and use this data to get your CEO and other senior leaders on board to invest in the succession planning process.

Six consequences of not having a succession plan: lost money, time, relationships, shareholder value, performance, and employee morale.

Download Infographic: The Cost of Not Having a Succession Plan

Let SIGMA Help You Sell Succession to Your CEO

To try to make succession planning more manageable for your CEO, introduce them to a simple framework like SIGMA’s Succession Planning Process. Consider using an experienced succession consultant, who can offer succession planning workshops, resources, and succession planning templates to guide your process.

Finally, if you’re looking to get the most done with the least investment possible, SIGMA can also kick-start your succession planning process with our Succession Planning Launch Series. In this series you will accomplish 6 months of work in two interactive sessions requiring less than 8 hours from your management team. We will coach you through the succession planning process and deliver a customized 12-month succession plan in just 4-6 weeks. Feel free to contact us below if you have questions or would like to speak with a consultant on how SIGMA can best meet your needs. 

About the Author

Sharon Van Duynhoven

Office Manager

Sharon brings our tests and assessments from the development stage to marketable product. She ensures quality control at every step of a project, edits technical documents and manuals, and artistically enhances reports and resources. She also manages contracts with clients across the globe and answers technical questions.