Succession planning is the process of identifying and preparing talented individuals, ready for that future point when the company needs them to step up to the plate and ensure continuity. It’s about being proactive in your approach to nurturing any potential talent so that you aren’t left panicking further down the line when a position needs filling.
Creating an action plan for succession planning will help ensure that you have prepared for every reasonable contingency such as an unexpected departure, illness or retirement. At that moment, you will want to feel like you’re in control, not desperately trying to get on top of a crisis.
We recommend that businesses of all shapes and sizes create an action plan for succession planning. No matter what sector you’re in, people will inevitably leave your company at one point or another.
Start your succession planning now to give yourself the greatest amount of time possible to find and train the ideal successor(s). Remember, the perfect individual might not be the most obvious one. A deputy or other form of second-in-command isn’t always the very best person for the job, despite their proximity to it.
For the greatest chance of success, we would recommend that you take a systematic approach to your succession planning. To help with this, we’ve listed some of the key steps for creating an action plan for succession planning.
Steps to Creating an Action Plan for Succession Planning
Which roles require succession planning?
Not every role in a company requires a full succession action plan. For many businesses, that would simply not be feasible. We would suggest that you identify the most crucial roles within the company and start there. These are positions that if left vacant, will seriously impede the business’ ability to meet its operational objectives.
Typically, these ‘mission critical’ roles would be senior leadership positions, such as heads of departments, but also roles requiring in-demand technical capabilities which are difficult to fill at short notice.
What does the role require?
Before you start looking for people with the necessary experience, skills (functional and behavioural), qualifications and other competencies to take on a specific role in future, you obviously need to know what those requirements are.
This task may be referred to as ‘position profiling’.
Defining the job description, expectations and essential requirements of the role will help you build a clear picture. What’s more, you could look at one of the top performers currently in the role you’re creating the succession plan for and realise the competencies which make them successful in their job. These aren’t just hard, technical skills but also behavioural qualities e.g. ‘results driven’, ‘maximises opportunities’ or ‘builds common vision’.
Where can you look for talent?
When it comes to succession planning, it’s common to first look internally for suitable individuals. This is simply because you have more opportunity to observe their behaviour and work, as well as exert greater control over their training and ongoing development so they’re ready to step up if and when required.
However, for roles which require niche technical capabilities, it’s likely that these skillsets won’t already exist in abundance within the business and you will need to consider external options. The most robust succession plans are partnered by a talent pipeline which provides you with a considered selection of individuals, often working for competitor organisations, who have the capabilities required to hit the ground running in the role and who will have already expressed an interest of working for your business (more information about this is available further below).
How does talent need to be developed?
Once you’ve identified an individual with the necessary talent, you’ll want to help them prepare for the demands of the role they’re being lined up for. There are multiple ways that you could possibly do this, ranging from a more formal mentor relationship to job shadowing to ongoing training. We would recommend that you take note of the areas where the individual particularly seems to excel.
One of the best ways to see if an individual is suitable for a particularly high-level position is to simply get them to do the job. If the incumbent in the role goes on holiday or is off sick, you could ask their potential successor to temporarily take on some of the key responsibilities of the job and use this as a trial.
How are you going to ensure the process is followed?
When you have defined your strategy for succession planning, you’ll want to get that action plan down in writing. It should detail the timelines involved, who is taking on which role and what their responsibilities are.
Ensure there are clear deadlines in place and that everybody has a defined set of actions to complete. Evaluate the action plan on a regular basis with the whole team so that you’re ready for the unexpected.
How Succession Planning Works in Practice
Succession plans are often introduced across areas of a business which are critical to their survival and success. If the required skillsets can’t be found within the company, it’s necessary to look externally.
This means building a talent pipeline.
The very best talent pipelines will identify, engage and assess a desired cohort of talent, in any preferred global location, and produce a report of suitable individuals which can be referred to when the need arises. The talent pipeline will also only include people who have stated they would like to work for your company, denote exactly when they will be available and include other insights such as willingness to relocate and expectations around remuneration.
Our FTSE 250 Engineering client wanted to improve both succession planning and gender diversity within their business. Below is a detailed account of how we helped them.