Using Leadership Assessments in Succession Planning

Leadership Assessments in Succession Planning — How Can They Help?

If you are familiar with leadership assessments, then you likely know the value they can bring to organizations. They can be used for selection purposes to better predict performance, or in development contexts to identify key strengths and development opportunities. For these reasons, leadership assessments can also be a powerful tool in the succession planning process. Scientifically-validated assessments can improve succession planning outcomes by bringing structure and objectivity to the process. Below, we outline some key reasons why it’s important to integrate leadership assessments with your succession planning.


When it comes to succession planning, there are several factors that contribute to our decisions about who is a candidate for what role, and how ready they are to take on that new position. As with any decision-making process, personal biases can be a big influence. The term “bias” notoriously has a negative connotation, but it is important to know that cognitive biases do have a purpose. From an evolutionary perspective, biases are tools that we use to process information faster than we would otherwise be able to do. This can be an advantage when we need to make quick decisions. However, when our biases begin to impact decisions that require more careful thought and deliberation, this can be problematic.

To some extent, everyone has biases. Some may hold biases against groups of people based on gender or race. Others may hold biases about certain individuals based on personality or past experiences. Our biases are not always obvious. Sometimes they can be so subtle or pervasive it is difficult to recognize them.  It is often these kinds of biases that can threaten succession planning.

Fortunately, assessments can help. By integrating scientifically-validated assessments into your succession plan, you can add objectivity to the process. This is sure to minimize the impact of personal biases on important selection decisions. By evaluating all succession candidates against a standardized benchmark of performance, your senior leadership team will be better able to impartially assess leadership potential.


Related to objectivity is the issue of transparency. There is an entire field of research on organizational justice that describes how employees make judgments about the actions of their organization, and how these judgments impact their perceptions of fairness. When employees feel that the actions of senior leadership are unfair, they are less likely to be accepting of the consequences.

In succession planning, this can be a problem. If it’s not clear to your employees how you reached the decision to promote Mary over them, they may begin to question your choice. This can impact your relationship with your team, especially if they don’t seem to trust your judgment, feel you are “playing favorites”, or believe that you don’t recognize their contributions. It can also be a disservice to Mary, who is now in the position of leading her former colleagues. Some of them may feel she doesn’t deserve her new position and that it should have been them instead. Many of these issues can be avoided by using transparency and regular communication.

There are a number of ways to gain employee buy-in for succession, and doing so is likely to make individuals more motivated and open to the process. The addition of assessments in particular can be a powerful tool for eliminating the “black box” of development decisions. When candidates know where they stand on an objective measure of leadership potential, they also have a better sense of the changes they need to make to get closer to their development goals. Using assessments also means that if someone questions your decision to promote Mary over them, you can point to their report and say this is where you are, and this is where you need to be.


Not only do assessments add objectivity and transparency to important personnel decisions – they can help you make better choices. When scientifically validated assessments are part of your succession process, you will be better able to predict the likelihood of candidate success.

Research demonstrates that a variety of assessment tools can predict unique aspects of performance that traditional techniques cannot. For example, when used in the context of selection, personality tests add to the prediction of performance beyond what is learned in an interview or test center evaluation. While these common selection tools can give you information about whether or not an applicant has the necessary skills or experience for a job, personality can provide you with information on their potential to be an influential leader in your organization. Assessments allow you to consider more information, thereby improving the likelihood that you will select the right candidate for the job.

Incorporating Assessments into your Succession Plan

You may be thinking Okay, assessments are important, but how do I add them into my succession plan? There are two places in the succession process that can be greatly improved by adding assessments. The first is when taking stock of your current talent pool. Once you’ve identified the potential successors for a key role within your organization, have them complete a self-report measure of leadership competencies relevant to the role. A good example is SIGMA’s Leadership Skills Profile. Not only will this provide you with objective criteria on which to evaluate your talent pool, but it can serve as a great starting point for candidates to create their individualized development plans.

Next, assessments can be a useful tool for measuring progress. Administering a multisource feedback assessment, like the SIGMARadius 360 Degree Feedback survey, allows you to collect data from candidates as well as their leaders, colleagues, and direct reports. You can assess how much progress candidates have made on their key development goals. Not only does this help you determine whether they are ready to take on a new position, but it can demonstrate the utility of your process. This helps you to bolster the business case for succession planning.

How SIGMA Can Help

At SIGMA, we have over 50 years of experience developing science-based assessment products that we integrate into our Succession Process to help organizations plan for the future. Contact us for more information on how our Launch Series can deliver your company a personalized succession plan in just 30 DAYS with only 8 hours of time from your senior leadership team.

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.