Succession Planning – A 12 Step Guide

Most companies acknowledge that succession planning is important, but few get beyond simply putting some speculative names against senior roles. Indeed, according to our research only 14% of companies have a comprehensive succession plan which they rate in place. So, to help companies kick-start their succession planning process we’ve developed a 12-step guide.

1. Be joined up
A good succession plan can’t work in isolation. It needs to be backed up by a leadership development programme which gives employees the additional training and mentoring to develop them, plus a recruitment strategy – put in place to plug any gaps.

2. Go deep
Many companies are tempted to simply focus on the very high performing people and roles. However, the risk with this approach is that you may overlook great talent sitting within the lower ranks in your organisation. Also, staff not included in the process will feel disgruntled, demotivated and may leave as a result. Most companies have training and development programmes for all staff, (if they don’t they should). It’s not a major leap to extend these to incorporate succession planning.

3. Define what’s needed
For every role identify the skills, knowledge and experience that are required. Make sure staff understand what these are and that their development plans take account of these factors. Don’t forget to be forward thinking when doing this. If the company is moving into new markets, opening new sales channels or the macro environment is changing, so roles and requirements may change. Be prepared to refresh the definition.

4. Apply timings
When looking at senior roles think about who could fill gaps now, in a year, 24 months, three, four or even five years’ time. What training will they need, how long will this take? This will involve you thinking about more junior managers – but will give you a greater appreciation of the talent siting within your company, what its development needs are. In doing this you will keep good junior people motivated and less likely to leave the business.

5. Mind the middle
If someone is promoted into a more senior role, their own position will become vacant. Include lower management roles in any succession planning and development.

6. Accept some external hiring
Be flexible in your thinking. There’s a lot of merit in developing your internal talent to take on top roles. They will know the organisation inside and out, and other staff will be motivated if they see senior appointments coming from within. However, this is not always the ideal solution. For instance, if the current generation of leaders leave before the next generation is ready, the company is heading in a new direction or is facing a specific new challenge an external hire may be a better strategy. Also, it can be challenging for internal staff to accept someone who was once a colleague as now the person in charge! Accept some external hiring may be inevitable and as part of the planning, develop a relationship with a good executive search firm.

7. Interim benefits
As part of your external recruitment strategy be open to the idea of interims. An interim director may be an ideal solution if your next generation of leaders aren’t quite ready to take on the mantle, your business has a one-off challenge to tackle or you have a sudden unexpected one-off gap to fill.

8. Forget like with like
Companies are increasingly being scrutinised about the diversity of the talent they deploy, in particular the number of women in senior roles. Make sure your succession plan doesn’t have bias built in. When identifying the talent which could potentially be developed for senior roles make sure you’re not simply filling like with like – if you are you will never change the mix of your senior team.

9. Don’t forget dynamics
If you aren’t simply going for a like for like replacement, you need to be aware that the differences may need to be compensated for within the senior team. The additional talents, skills and experiences the person leaving or joining have will impact on the team’s dynamics and will potentially change the requirements for other roles.

10. Get buy-in from above
If a succession plan is to be something more than a document sitting in a drawer and is going to be used, then it must have input and buy in from your senior team. Get them involved. They should be able to name their potential successors and know the development programme they are on and be supporting that development. By the same measure, if senior managers and directors are blocking the succession process address them.

11. Leadership development
Be serious about your leadership development. It may need to include mentoring, coaching plus in-company assignments to stretch senior managers and develop their skills and experience. Again, the senior team needs to be committed to this process and mentoring potential successors.

12. Talk to staff
Within this whole process don’t forget to talk to staff. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies forget to do this. Your plan will amount to nothing if staff don’t want the roles you are earmarking them for or have ambitions and talents which lie elsewhere!

As part of our executive search service NJR also supports companies through the succession planning process, helping them evaluate roles, identify internal talent and gaps and then develop a recruitment strategy as a result. So, if you want help with your succession planning contact one of our team.