As most of you will know, the HR community has long struggled against the tide when it comes to developing succession plans that are truly strategic and relevant. Given that we are operating in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment, it can be almost impossible to plan to replace top talent or even know what skills will be needed in the near, let alone distant, future. But, as professionals we certainly won’t give up – after all, talent is our focus. However, could some radical thinking be the way to overcome this barrier?

The reason I bring this up is that at a recent Cielo breakfast briefing I was privy to some insightful anecdotes. One delegate, for example, referenced a pilot scheme launched by a company in which it brought university students on board for no particular role. Following the initial induction stage, each of the divisional heads had the chance to pitch their practice to the students, who then decided which leader they wanted to work with.

According to the delegate, this approach delivered a number of demonstrable benefits. In the first instance, it enabled leadership teams to become directly involved in the talent attraction process, allowing a greater indication as to whether an individual will work well with the team. It also helped to ensure that those individuals brought on board to potentially progress into senior roles were 100% behind the practice’s visions and values, not to mention the clear support they demonstrate for the current executive team. And with the onus on the senior leaders themselves to attract the right talent, those who were left without a new team member recognised the potential pitfalls in their current thinking and, as a result, reviewed their talent attraction strategy.

If HR professionals are to get leaders to buy into succession plans that really work, they need to bring them into the process as early as possible. Just as we would expect our leaders to delegate and use available resources to their benefit, so too must human resources teams. Considering that senior teams have the insight and expertise to justify what ‘good’ looks like and what skills will be needed for future business plans, they are quite simply the perfect partner for HR professionals.

And given that the HR function is already operating with limited resources and that, in many instances, its members are struggling to create and sustain real engagement between senior teams and talent pools, should we not look to enable managers to help themselves? Perhaps, then, the way forward isn’t through HR trying to control it, but relinquishing responsibility to leaders themselves.

While this may potentially sound like an odd idea and the thought of losing an element of control over a key people process is likely to be daunting for HR teams, it can’t be overlooked that existing methods aren’t working. And if they’re not then only a willingness to experiment and try out new, perhaps more radical approaches may provide the solution.

What’s your view? Could such an approach to succession planning be incorporated into your business?