One of the most detrimental things to CEO succession is thinking of it as a planning exercise. That usually means you are going to make a plan, create a document and work on execution of the plan. CEO succession properly and well done is a process that routinely looks at the need of an organization for continuity of leadership and updates the thinking of the board frequently – market changes, leadership changes, possible successors and their progress of development, etc. It also takes into account the possibility of unexpected changes – a CEO or possible successor who becomes unavailable for some reason or whose performance takes an unexpected nosedive.
This is a board responsibility. It cannot be delegated to human resources or headhunters. Developing the process and installing it in the organization so that it becomes “native” is something a consultant can help with. The biggest barrier is in defining this important organizational need as a thing or an event.
Once you have established a process, it must be preserved as intended. The temptation is to break it up into disembodied tasks or procedures. Sometimes people internal to an organization want to do this because it allows them to take ownership of a piece here or there. Because CEO transitions create risk for shareholders, it must be managed by the board and cannot be carved up into so many puzzle pieces.