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Feature: Effective succession planning


Tim Bradley

By Tim Bradley, managing director of Pecaso UK

We all know that management style can be the make or break of a company. The departure of a well-respected CEO can send shivers down the spine of many a shareholder. So how can companies begin to govern the succession of key roles within the organisation effectively?

The England rugby coaching fraternity didn’t just happen upon Jonny Wilkinson on a public playing field in Newcastle in 2003.

This player has been groomed for stardom from youth – all the way from new player to Captain. In business, just as in sports, leaders and senior people are not made overnight.

There has to be a careful and strategic plan to ensure that the right people get to the top of the organisation. This does not mean activating an ‘old boys’ network as in days gone by, but implementing a strategic succession management programme throughout the organisation.

The business world faces many more pitfalls than the sporting world and the case for a robust succession planning strategy is strong:

  • It is difficult and expensive to recruit senior management

  • The cost of a mistake – both in terms of wasted money and damage to the company is high

Churn and retention are problems. Recent surveys have shown that over one fifth of UK employees placed the likelihood of leaving their present employer at 50% or above. Evidently employers have to work hard at keeping their people; and work even harder at spotting talent and ensuring smooth and educational progress for those destined for the organisation’s key positions.

Maintaining career and development information, such as ensuring the right people get the right training, that their qualifications and ambition objectives are recorded and tracked, allows organisations to identify high potential employees and create career succession plans for essential positions.

So a keen eye for talent, combined with a clear and concise succession management programme backed up by the technology to do this effectively, will ensure that organisations maximise their talent and keep the company on track.

This is about talent spotting, but also about timing, ensuring that resources of information are up to date, and knowing as much as possible about the human resources available within the organisation.

There is no failsafe blueprint for successful succession management strategy, but the following steps form guidelines as a starting point for all organisations:

1. Look at the organisation as a whole
It is essential to look throughout the entire organisation for candidates rather than relying solely on senior executives’ personal knowledge. Remember that the leaders of tomorrow could be the administration staff or juniors of today. Brief all staff on succession management policy and create a top level list of best performers from the bottom of the organisation, to the top.

2. Keep a ‘talent bank’ – and keep it up-to-date
Systems must be in place to find talented employees particularly those who don’t typically interact with senior management. Logging additional information about employees: areas of interest and expertise outside of the workplace can also help with matching people to positions.

3. Standardise processes
Sourcing top-level staff, particularly from within an international organisation, can be complex. Set and commonly accepted criteria for identifying potential are needed to create a viable system. This can be integrated into appraisal or reporting systems to feed information back to the talent bank.

4. Standardise criteria
Not all potential leaders have equal access to high-profile projects, or opportunities for visible responsibility. The evaluation of individuals with high potential should be based on core skills. The right level of evaluation should enable the information gathered to translate into information to divine their suitability for upcoming roles.

5.Develop individuals’ general competency rather than being position-specific
Great employees are developed for general success, rather than groomed with a specific position in mind. Then match personalities to jobs as vacancies appear. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed) goals should be set and people should be assigned to monitor the effectiveness of systems through periodic reports.

6. One-on-one development
Once a high-potential individual is identified, developmental needs must be diagnosed so they can be given the unique experience and training necessary to prepare them for success at high levels. Different personalities and spheres of experience will result in different needs, training must reflect these.

7. Plan ahead
Even before a position becomes vacant, it can be beneficial to have in mind any candidates who would be particularly suited to the role. It is vital to look across the organisation at the same level, as opposed to simply down the department under the departing employee. Inter-departmental flow can be a positive thing for an organisation, bringing fresh ideas and a new perspective.

8. Long-term vision
The staff being developed now are the leaders of the future. Succession management by its very nature requires a long-term view. General development of a high-potential employee is essential as everything they learn will feed into whatever high-profile role they end up fulfilling, and the broader the training they receive, the higher their potential for future roles.

Also, the more high-potential recruits identified, the higher the probability that most positions will be able to be filled internally saving cost and time in recruitment and training at that level.

Succession management is a long-term, complex process. But with the right technology and processes it can become an effective and cost-efficient means of sourcing leadership talent from within an organisation.

In addition to the benefits listed above this investment in staff and planning for their future nurtures staff morale and loyalty. Effective succession management not only helps to fill specific positions but helps to create a more positive and proficient workplace all round.

One Response

  1. Check Out Elliott Jaques
    I very much agree with the ‘what’ – i.e. the need for succession planning.

    As usual it’s the ‘how’ that really exercises the mind!

    Let me suggest people take a look at the work of Elliot Jaques and his theory & practice of Requisite Organisations – he has a different take on the ‘how’!



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Annie Hayes


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