Succession planning before your senior positions become vacant

We’ve all been there, well I certainly have, when a key team member or senior manager resigns from the company leaving you wondering who will fill their shoes and how you will manage.

The most high profile example recently is the failure of Barclays to immediately announce a new CEO after the resignation of Bob Diamond left them rudderless in a time of crisis.  This just highlights the importance of succession planning as not an afterthought but integrated into day-to-day thinking irrespective of your company size.

It is important to have the right processes and tools in place to embrace succession planning.  HR software can help automate the succession planning process and reduce the complexity, efforts and costs of managing this process successfully. So, what can you do to prepare yourself?

What is succession planning?

The CIPD defines succession planning as ‘a process for identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business-critical positions’.

We all know organisations need leaders and managers with a range of experience in order to continue to function.  What is important is to be able to find people with the right skills to fill these key top leadership and management jobs when they become vacant.

In this current climate attracting and retaining talent is especially important and is where succession planning can play a vital role. Organisations need to offer exciting and engaging opportunities for their talented employees if they want to keep hold of them.

Benefits of succession planning

For those organisations that are serious about retaining their talented individuals succession planning offers a number of benefits:

  1. Targeted training and development activities that will give those individuals the skills that they need to progress within the organisation
  2. Turnover of these individuals reduces as they see the investment the company is making in them and the opportunities that lie ahead
  3. Engagement increases as they are being supported and invested in
  4. Recruitment costs decrease and there is a more seamless transition between one member of staff leaving and a new person taking on the role
  5. Productivity is retained and in some cases increased
  6. Supports a culture of innovation, trust and growth

Succession planning is all about helping people develop and be in the right place at the right time for existing roles.  Good succession planning should be about bringing in a range of talent, either from inside or outside of the organisation in a fair and open way.

Steps to implementing an effective succession plan

The challenge is how to develop a robust yet flexible succession planning policy that meets the changing needs of the organisation yet will engage the business.  Some steps to consider include:

  1. Review business strategy and talent management strategy
  2. Develop the business case for succession planning and seek to secure board-level buy in
  3. Conduct an audit of skills within the business
  4. Develop a plan of action to address any skills gaps and areas needing improving/updating
  5. Identify individuals who demonstrate the potential to grow and become future leaders.  I would suggest working with line managers who really know their staff
  6. Monitor performance and ensure performance objectives are aligned closely to overall business objectives
  7. Work with these ‘future leaders’ to create individual development plans.  I would think about incorporating formal core competency training with mentoring and support from senior management.

Remember that succession planning isn’t a static process.  Organisations need to continually review and develop the succession planning policy and individuals to meet the current and future skills required to ensure it is closely aligned with evolving business priorities.

Katherine Pratt, Sage HR and Payroll Team