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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Three considerations for effective succession planning


In the wake of the crisis that engulfed the BBC following the Jimmy Savile scandal, the broadcaster’s director general, George Entwistle, was forced to resign after only 54 days in the job.

But less than a fortnight later, the BBC Trust was able to announce his replacement.
Lord Tony Hall of Birkenhead, chief executive of the Royal Opera House and the BBC’s former director of news, was described by the Trust’s chairman Lord Patten as “the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis”.
The speed of his appointment did raise eyebrows, however, not least because the Trust was said to have taken the unusual step of making a direct approach to Hall, who accepted the post without the broadcaster having spoken to any other candidates.
As a result, critics warned that the process was neither open nor transparent – although Lord Patten attested that, given the current situation, there simply wasn’t the time to go through the usual four-month procedure.
No matter what the rights or wrongs of the situation are, however, what it would appear to illustrate is the need for effective succession planning.
However, it’s not just about planning for a replacement following a dramatic resignation. Redundancy or retirement situations are also possible among key personnel as is someone simply deciding to change jobs or coming down with a health problem that stops them from working.
So how can HR make certain that it gets the succession planning process right? Here are three suggestions:
1. Know your talent
First, it is imperative for both HR and functional heads to evaluate existing employees and their potential as well as identify their current skills and skills gaps.
Talent and performance management activities have an important role to play here. Employee appraisals, third party feedback and training programmes all provide useful information that can be used to assess individuals’ aptitudes and capabilities.
2. Be prepared
The next step for HR is to present its findings to the board, along with cost-effective strategies to enable a smooth succession, which include promoting internally and recruiting talent from outside.
If a position does become free and it is decided that an external candidate should be brought in, having a pre-prepared list of potential individuals to approach will give you a better chance of finding a replacement quickly.
It also makes sense to bring in an interim manager at this point in order to hold the reins until a successor is appointed. If the interim is taken on before the individual concerned has left, s/he will have a chance to shadow them and get up to speed on the role prior to handover.
But HR should also work closely with the board to ensure that a comprehensive contingency plan is in place should anything unexpected happen.
3. Communicate clearly
Once the succession plan for a top role has been devised, it should be communicated to the wider business. It is usual to involve senior personnel in this process first as any reshuffle at the top is likely to affect them directly.
The implications of the situation for everyone else should subsequently be communicated during individuals’ appraisals and performance management reviews, when promotion prospects will be discussed.
Succession planning is essential to ensure the ongoing success of the business, particularly should its top executives leave. As a result, HR needs to start acting on it now – rather than be found wanting when crisis hits.

One Response

  1. Successful Succession

    I think these steps are appropriate.  However, initially, I believe we need to be mindful of ensuring we create an environment which enables us to identify all of our potential talent, especially those individuals who are not yet aware of all they have to offer.  We believe that outstanding leadership is not just about how good a leader you are, but how many leaders you develop.  So we all need to consistently encourage, develop and value individuals to ensure that we support the development of the strengths of each and every member of our teams.  This way we will identify our hidden talent as well.

    Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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