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Succession planning for strategic success

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The idea of succession planning in the workplace has been around for hundreds of years. Think about Queen Elizabeth, for instance, who succeeded her father as the Commonwealth monarch after his death.

Like the royal successions that have happened for centuries, succession planning is all about being ready for the future; having a plan in place once the next step must be taken. As a society we have been conditioned to expect this to happen. For example, when there is a government leadership reshuffle, a new Prime Minister is named at the same time the outgoing Prime Minister stands down.

However, unlike the monarchy, today’s succession planning in business not only focuses on replacing talent, but also on developing the talent that will fulfil the organisation’s long-term goals. This is relevant to all levels of the organisation, not just at the top. Succession plans should be put in place for team leader, management and executive roles.

The current economic crisis means some industries have staff freezes, so it’s important to have a workplace strategy in place when the market picks up. Labour is currently more abundant. However, there is still a skills shortage in some sectors, such as engineering, and the right talent might not be available. This is where future planning is imperative to long-term success.

Good leadership is necessary to an organisation’s success and the current skills shortage means companies are doing all they can to hold on to talented leaders when they find them. Companies are identifying critical jobs, pin-pointing gaps in their talent pool and developing staff or recruiting to ensure the jobs are filled.

A good succession planning system will be proactive and have the employee firmly in the picture, by giving them the opportunity to assess their progress and outline opportunities needed to develop their talent further. Individual development plans are created for each ‘star’, matched to their interests and forecasted development within the company. Effective succession management is a strategic tool for attracting and retaining great staff.

Successful talent development includes mentoring, coaching, job rotation, special assignments that prepare employees for the role ahead, education (formal, in-house and web-based) and feedback opportunities. For example, computer giant Dell focuses much of its development activity on its top talent and holds business unit leaders accountable for their development.

Like in any successful operation, succession planning systems must be continually refined and adjusted for the greatest returns. Feedback from employees, technological and economic climate changes and what the competition is doing should all be taken into account when tweaking the plan.

Tips on succession planning:

  • Make the plan uncomplicated so it is consistent and objective throughout all departments and office locations.
  • Balance the need to fill vacancies with opportunities for key talent to develop.
  • Outline the skills, values, behaviour and attitudes required for each role.
  • Have more than one person groomed for succession so there is a choice when the role needs to be filled.

While succession planning is a key component to an organisation’s continued success, there are also some points to be considered to ensure that the system runs smoothly and does not become political. When outlining talent gaps that need to be filled, be careful not to clone existing managers and don’t overlook quiet achievers in favour of employees who stand out.

It is also important to nurture the morale of other employees who are not on the ‘star’ list, so they don’t become disillusioned and demotivated. New staff could be seen as a threat or an opportunity to existing employees, so it is up to the organisation’s leadership to create mechanisms for cooperation, effective team-building and communication to ensure a continued culture of growth exists.

Don Holley is Managing Director for The Mindset Group, which provides the expertise and tools to assist leaders to transform an organisation’s culture, capability and processes, thrugh its three specialist divisions: transformation, talent services and technology for HR.

Photo: dbking (Flickr)

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