Succession Planning

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business critical positions.

Succession planning programmes should start with the business strategy.  Where does your business need to be?  A business strategy can only be implemented effectively with the right people doing the right work. 

Identify the future critical functions and roles for the business to achieve the strategy

  1. Be clear about the values, behaviours and expertise those people need to possess
  2. Identify potential successors
  3. Assess your talent pool to identify
    • current performance &/or potential in terms of expertise, values and skills required
    • gaps in values knowledge or skills
    • development plans to fill those gaps
    • identify any recruitment necessary
  4. Measure resultsSuccession planning

Considering the future requirements of the business rather than existing structure will enable the business to make sure they are creating a workforce which can deliver what the business needs.  This approach can inform learning & development strategy and may include coaching, workshops and learning events, as well as workplace secondments to ensure that gaps in knowledge and experience are filled in good time.

Business continuity

Just as contingency plans address potential crises or disasters, such as IT failure, fire or flood, so the business needs to protect itself against the eventuality of the loss of key people.  To take a rather drastic example, if a senior manager is run over by a bus whilst popping out for a sandwich at lunchtime, the business needs to continue.  A succession plan enables the business to identify critical roles & activities and to identify whether it has the right talent to step in to maintain business continuity.

Any role that is strategic to the future success or survival of the business needs to have a plan in place for how to fill it as and when required.

 Creating change

Succession planning is not about moving around the activities and people already in place.  It is about roles and functions rather than jobs.  When someone leaves we should not automatically back fill with the same skill-set and the same type of job.  It is an opportunity to reassess whether the job and skills it requires are what the business still needs, and will need in the future.

 Factors affecting succession planning

  1. The pace of change. Traditionally large corporations used highly structured mechanistic, confidential, top down succession schemes to grow and develop talent within their business.  However, as the speed of change accelerates this approach is too cumbersome and inflexible.  A succession plan needs to be a “live” document which is up-dated in the light of e.g. changes in market need or IT capability.
  1. Employee movement. It is recognised that as Generation Y mature early, expect a lot from the workplace, and are likely to move job more frequently than past generations.  A job for life is a thing of the past.  Using succession planning to provide opportunity and promote ability, rather than time-served, is likely to attract and retain the brightest and best people.
  1. Retirement is an obvious trigger for succession planning. In the legal sector, the economic downturn in the late 2000s caused some senior partners to delay their retirement to enable them to protect their pensions.  This tier of senior practitioners will be exiting the profession over the next 10 years, which will have a knock on effect on the structure of many law firms.  Whether you are in the legal sector or not your business needs to be prepared for the financial, personal and professional dynamics of retirement.
  1. Dealing with the difficult ones. As the business develops there are occasions when  you need to tackle poor performance at senior levels, for example, a senior individual who may contribute to the bottom line, but upset everyone on the way.  The ability to tackle poor performance of this kind depends on having confidence that the business can do without that person if need be.

Succession planning is a key aspect of people management which can provide brilliant opportunities for creating business change and growth.  In an increasingly dynamic recruitment market it is critical to be able to develop internal capacity, retain high-flyers (or attract them back if they move on) and, above all, to be alive the possibilities for shaping the business over time.