Overlooking Unconscious Bias: The Hidden Challenge in Succession Planning

Succession planning is a critical aspect of any thriving business, ensuring continuity and preserving the legacy built over years of hard work and dedication. However, one often-overlooked aspect of this meticulous process is the role of unconscious bias. At Excel Legacy Group, we understand the nuances of succession planning (excellegacygroup.com/succession-planning-for-businesses) and the significance of addressing unconscious biases to facilitate a fair and effective transition.

The Subtle Impact of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. In the context of succession planning, these biases can influence decisions, often in ways that business owners are not aware of.

For instance, a business owner might unconsciously favor candidates who are similar to them in terms of background, experiences, or even personality traits. This can lead to a narrow pool of candidates, potentially overlooking qualified individuals who could bring diverse perspectives and skills to the leadership role.

The Consequences of Ignoring Unconscious Bias

Ignoring unconscious bias in succession planning can have several consequences:

1. Limited Diversity in Leadership: It can result in a leadership team that lacks diversity in thought, experience, and background. Diverse leadership is not just a matter of fairness; it’s a strategic imperative. Studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative and make better decisions.

2. Missed Opportunities: By overlooking qualified individuals who do not fit the unconscious mold, businesses miss out on leaders who can bring fresh perspectives and drive innovation.

3. Potential Internal Conflicts: Unaddressed biases can lead to internal conflicts and dissatisfaction, as employees may feel that the succession process is unfair or biased.

Embracing ESOPs in Succession Planning

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are often used in succession planning due to their tax efficiency and ability to transfer ownership while preserving the owner’s legacy. More importantly, ESOPs can help mitigate unconscious bias by democratizing ownership and involving a broader range of employees in the succession process. This involvement can help ensure that the selection of new leadership is more inclusive and representative of the company’s diverse workforce.

Strategies to Overcome Unconscious Bias

1. Awareness Training: Understanding and acknowledging the existence of unconscious biases is the first step. Training sessions can help business owners and key decision-makers recognize and address their biases.

2. Structured Decision-Making Processes: Implementing structured and standardized criteria for evaluating potential successors can reduce the influence of personal biases.

3. Diverse Selection Committees: Involving a diverse group of individuals in the selection process can provide varied perspectives and mitigate individual biases.

4. Regular Review and Feedback: Continuously reviewing succession plans and seeking feedback from a range of employees can help identify and address any biases in the process.


Unconscious bias in succession planning is a subtle yet significant barrier to fair and effective leadership transition. Recognizing and addressing these biases is crucial for businesses looking to foster a culture of inclusivity and equal opportunity. At Excel Legacy Group, we are committed to helping business owners navigate these challenges. We invite you to visit our website for more information on effective succession planning. If you’re looking to learn more about how to make your succession plan as inclusive and effective as possible, do not hesitate to contact us. Our team is here to guide you every step of the way, ensuring that your legacy is preserved and your business thrives in the hands of the next generation.