Planning for an Ever-Changing Future

How L&D and Succession Planning Work in Tandem

By Adina Sapp

Traditionally, succession planning has been a lengthy process: identifying top talent early, grooming candidates for promotion and then moving employees through jobs to prepare them for future opportunities over many years. Today’s workers, however, may be unlikely to remain with a company long enough for a slow-paced succession plan to succeed. According to a 2018 Deloitte study, “Among millennials, 43 percent expect to leave their jobs within two years if given the choice; only 28 percent expect to stay beyond five years if given the choice. Employed Gen Z respondents express even less loyalty, with 61 percent saying they would leave within two years if given the choice.”¹

Plus, thanks to the digital disruption affecting every industry, succession planning must account for the reality that the future may be entirely different than the present. Between employee turnover and market shifts, organizations are changing so rapidly that a decades-long succession plan may not fit the ultimate direction of the business.

How can organizations plan for filling future leadership positions in this environment of fast change and job mobility? Is traditional succession planning a thing of the past?

Professors Richard Wagner and John Dibenedetto of Capella University explored this interesting topic with Chief Learning Officer. Their expertise in a variety of fields and decades of combined leadership experience offer insight into how succession planning has changed over the years, how to weigh the risks of promoting from within versus hiring externally and how L&D contributes to organizational success.

Through all the changes that have happened in the workplace over the past several decades, and regardless of whether or not you follow a long-term succession plan, something that has stayed the same is the need to develop employees. According to Deloitte, 83 percent of millennials and 80 percent of Gen Z believe that business success should be measured in terms of more than financial performance, including priorities such as ”job creation, career development and improving people’s lives.”¹

“You cannot undervalue the need for professional growth and development,” Dibenedetto says. “When you look at the succession management process, that plays a huge role.” AACSB research suggests that investing in employee development increases employee engagement by 64 percent and retention by 43 percent.²

However, there is inherent risk in investing time and money in employees who are likely to leave. “Just looking at exit interview data shows it’s a big problem and there is high risk in the groomed employees leaving,” Wagner says. “It’s different in each industry, but it’s rampant, particularly in the younger generations, because they have expectations.”

The reality is that many emerging leaders may move to other companies, and sometimes the best choice is to hire externally. This can yield great results: hiring externally brings in new perspectives and can prevent stagnation of thought within an organization’s talent pool.

“One of the things I’m finding today is there is more and more movement of people across industries,” Wagner says, “and sometimes that’s incredibly successful because they bring those core competencies of leadership and emotional intelligence with them.”

On the other hand, when you develop people for those future leadership positions, younger people become more likely to stick around because they see they have potential to grow. Internal development of talented employees is a great way for organizations to groom leaders who understand and fit the company’s culture, and it also sends a good message to the rest of the team that the organization is committed to their future. According to Deloitte,

“Companies and senior management teams that are most aligned with millennials in terms of purpose, culture and professional development are likely to attract and retain the best millennial talent and, in turn, potentially achieve better financial performance. Loyalty must be earned, and the vast majority of millennials are prepared to move, and move quickly, for a better workplace experience.”¹

Whether hiring externally or promoting internally, the Capella Applied Leadership Series can speed up the succession planning process by equipping new or emerging leaders with the skills necessary to be successful. The program emphasizes engaging program participants with the leaders in their own company, which helps to ensure the new leaders understand the culture and fit the organization’s expected leadership style.

The Capella Applied Leadership Series is designed to support a 70-20-10 learning model. The series provides tools and best practices which support 70 percent of learning through applying and practicing new leadership skills at work. Participants’ peers and leaders have the ability to give meaningful feedback, which is 20 percent of the series, and the remaining 10 percent is leadership content focused on developing new skills and ways of leading.

Visit to learn more about how the Capella Applied Leadership Series can support the development of emerging leaders with a tailorable, scalable, and measurable online platform.

1 Deloitte (2018). 2018 Deloitte Milennial Survey
2 AACSB (2018). To Empower Learning over a Lifetime

An accredited online university, Capella University offers bachelor’s, master’s/MBA, doctoral, and certificate programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession. Our competency-based curriculum delivers both foundational knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals. For more information, visit