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Succession Planning


Succession Planning. What is your approach? Are you a ‘once-a-year, linked to your performance review, formal process’ type of organisation? Or are you a ‘fluid, “we-talk-about-it-all-the-time”’ type of business? Is it led by HR? Or driven by the business? How far up/down the organisational tree does your approach reach? How much do you share with your employees? Do your managers know what is needed within their teams to drive future success?

For us the essence of succession planning is future-focused – identifying and developing the skills required to deliver organisational objectives. It is about managers understanding the challenges facing the business and working with their staff to develop skills to address those challenges. It is about creating and supporting an organisational culture that allows employees the scope to identify and develop their strengths. It requires open communication and transparency throughout the organisation so expectations are managed and results are delivered.

Of the clients we have spoken to, nearly all engage in some form of succession planning – some with a more structured, formal process embedded in their annual business planning process, and others with a more fluid, informal approach; some simply encouraging open communication to find out employee aspirations and matching that with future business needs. All recognise the importance of investing time to identify those with the potential to become future leaders as well as identifying critical roles – those without which the business would suffer. Some admitted to making mistakes by overcomplicating the process or acting too slowly, and others recognised that their organisational culture leads to a lack of transparency in approach.

One contact shared why their succession planning approach is successful with 80% of senior roles being filled from within:

  • Prioritised the identification of future senior leaders, high potentials and top talent – all of which are clearly defined and communicated throughout the organisation.
  • Close working relationship between HR, the Senior Management Team and Recruitment to ensure strategic priorities are fed through the pipeline – core skills and behaviours required to meet future business objectives are prioritised when recruiting at entry level and developed throughout the employee’s careers (thus managing expectations and playing to key strengths and interests).
  • Career Goal conversations are part of the culture. Managers and HR are aware of employee aspirations and maintain an up-to-date picture of those who are willing to work on project work/secondments to broaden their breadth of experience and exposure to different parts of the business should a role become available (through sickness/holiday/exit/retirement etc.).
  • Reward and recognition is linked to performance. Every employee is aware of how they are performing, and decides which roles they apply for, with the opportunity to specialise or be more of a generalist and develop within their role. Development programmes are offered throughout the organisation to develop skills and allow personal growth in key areas to support business goals.

We believe there are certain considerations in any succession planning approach regardless of an organisation’s size, culture, maturity or experience to ensure you are securing a pipeline of talented people within your organisation to fill senior positions and critical organisational roles effectively and efficiently.

There must be a focus on the short-term – ensuring the appropriate knowledge, skills and behaviours are understood and demonstrated within teams – and on the longer-term – identifying and developing potential future leaders.

Regular communication with your teams is critical – find out what gets them out of bed in the morning. What are their specialisms? What are their aspirations? Sometimes the simplest fix to a succession issue is somebody saying they have always wanted to work in XX department as part of an informal conversation at the coffee machine…. Arrange secondments/shadowing/development to fill knowledge gaps and provide opportunities across the organisation. More organisations are adopting flatter hierarchies so it is becoming increasingly important to focus on breadth of experience through the creation of opportunities for sideways moves than the traditional view of ‘onwards and upwards’.

Recognise that you need a mix of loyalty and continuity delivered by long-serving employees, and fresh ideas with a dash of calculated risk from those new to the business to truly maximise the potential of all those who are part of your ‘gang’. Understand your team’s dynamics – the mix of skills and personalities that work well together and deliver effectively – and build on it.

Identify those who are not going anywhere as well as those who are potentially going ‘somewhere’ – you need a team who are having their personal needs valued and recognised, as well as addressing their professional ambitions. It’s fine to have people who are specialists in their field as long as they are developing those around them and you aren’t beholden to them, and only them, for a particular need. Spread the knowledge – a culture where ‘knowledge is power’ will not be a culture where people are open to change or ready to grasp opportunities to develop.

It’s also fine to have someone new to the organisation whose aim is to be the MD/CEO one day. Be honest – talk to them about what is possible and what is not. It is unrealistic to expect to provide the perfect career for every person in your business but you can provide them with opportunities to be their best self when they are working for you and with you.

Create a team/departmental plan that links to the overall business strategy – what do you want to achieve in the future vs. what are you working with now? How big is the gap? What needs to change? Where can you maximise your opportunities? Even doing a simple SWOT analysis will help you see what you need to focus on.

Finally, K.I.S.S. – your aim is to create a clearer line of sight to the right people who have the potential to fill key projects/roles and demonstrate the potential to be future leaders.

Succession planning is just that – planning. It is just the beginning of a development/progression conversation to deliver for the future. Your approach needs to fit your organisation’s culture and doesn’t need to be overly complicated. It should allow the alignment of personal aspirations with business strategy and can increase engagement by allowing individuals the opportunity to broaden their experience. Start the conversation and keep a focus on where you need to be in the future – your employees are your best resource to get you there.

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