Where Are Your Next Top Executives?

While most firms have CEO succession plans, few know how they will fill the other C-suite posts. A new Korn Ferry survey.

It’s getting the attention of companies everywhere, making sure that when the CEO leaves that there are candidates who can step in to lead the company.

The plans for all those other seats around the executive table, however, are a little murky. Indeed, according to a new series of Korn Ferry surveys, many organizations don’t have internal candidates who can step in to be chief financial officers, chief marketing officers, and other top senior leadership spots. Some organizations aren’t building out their c-suites with either strategic intent or a specific purpose, says John Petzold, senior client partner and head of Korn Ferry’s CXO Optimization practice. “A top-performing function requires the right people in the right roles at the right time, working in concert to maximize their collective capabilities and potential,” says Petzold.

For example, only 38% of 222 CFOs Korn Ferry surveyed said they have a comprehensive succession plan, and 80% do not feel there is a ready-now successor for their role. “The number of CFOs who don’t feel they have a formal succession plan or a direct report ready to replace them now should raise concern,” says Bryan Proctor, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and lead of the firm’s Global Financial Officers practice.

Proctor’s point holds true for the CHRO, CMO, and CTO positions as well. The CMO position is among the worst prepared when it comes to succession, for instance. In a survey of more than 200 marketing leaders, 84% said there is not an internal ready-now successor for their role, and only 41% said there is a comprehensive succession plan in place. One reason for the lack of planning could be attributed to the short tenures and among CMOs.

CHROs—the position most responsible for talent recruitment, retention, and development throughout an organization—aren’t faring much better when it comes to preparing successors of their own. Of the 193 CHROs we surveyed, 76% said they do not feel there is an internal ready-now successor for their role, and only a little more than half of them said they have a comprehensive succession plan in place.

CTOs appear to be slightly more prepared for succession than their other C-suite colleagues. About 60% of the roughly 200 technology leaders surveyed believe they do have a comprehensive succession plan in place. “The need for organizations to digitally transform isn’t going away anytime soon,” says Craig Stephenson, managing director of Korn Ferry’s North American Technology Officers practice. More organizations are making their top tech role a c-suite position. “Firms should focus on attracting, retaining, and developing top digital and technology talent to ensure the function is a business enabler in this digital transformation,” Stephenson says.