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Christina Lattimer

People Development Magazine


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Shhh.. We’re Succession Planning


Succession planning is a bit of an art, if it’s carried out effectively that is. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, or perhaps I’m just an advocate of the principle of fair, open and transparent to the point of being a proverbial pain. But do we score an own goal by disincentivising our employees, by not appearing to be fair, open and transparent when succession planning?

Why do we need succession planning? Well in its purist form, it is to make sure that the organisation can continue to function with the right people, with the right skills at the right time. Some spin-off benefits of succession planning, can be bringing in new and fresh talent, or motivating existing employees with a clear and possible career path.

One of the biggest confusions I have seen about succession planning, is when people are being earmarked to replace people who may be ready to retire, or they might be coming up for their next career step. The practice of naming specific people to replace an incumbent is not succession planning. It is a contingency plan. There may be all kinds of reasons to have a simple contingency strategy, but usually it is because it is a specialist post which would leave a huge vacuum if the incumbent suddenly left and the talent pool is severely limited.

Even a contingency strategy like this can cause resentment with employees if it is not distinctly used away from any succession planning exercised. To use a contingency strategy properly, employees would have no doubt that the person being earmarked for replacement was the right person, with the right skills, and the process fits with the organisational ethos.

The difference between contingency plans and succession planning is that succession planning is about helping people develop and be in the right place at the right time for existing roles, or developing roles. Good succession planning should be about bringing in a range of talent, either in or outside of the organisation, and it should be fair and open.

Before you begin succession planning, you need to have an ethos. Now that ethos will differ depending upon the business you are in. For example, if you are succession planning in a family run business, it’s usually the first born son…..oh alright, or daughter. If you are in a corporation or a public sector organisation, you might want to have a policy of growing your talent within and there are a number of ways you can do that. If you are a business on the move, you might want to look at bringing in new talent with new and evolving skills. Or you might have a combination of these approaches.

To successfully succession plan, my top tips are:

Be clear about why you want to introduce succession planning.

Is it to recruit new and evolving talent?

Is it to develop new leaders/managers/specialists for the future?

Be open about why you want to introduce succession planning with your current workforce.

Be clear with your current employees about your rationale and let them see the possibilities for them. If there aren’t possibilities for them, then be clear about that, but let them know why.

Be clear about the difference between contingency planning and succession planning.

If you have a list in a drawer with names, and the people who are named don’t know they are on there, then you might want to think about how helpful or not this is.

If you have a list of names, and it is to replace specialist jobs and no-one but the named persons know they are on the list, then again you might want to think about your strategy.

Be clear about the criteria you are going to apply to any succession planning exercise and communicate it widely.

Be structured. Make sure that you and everyone knows how it is going to work and what they can expect. Align other employee lifecycle events with the succession plan where needed.

Be open to attracting talent from everywhere. There may be someone in your current workforce, who might not be displaying the characteristics for future job filling now, but with an open invitation, they might just go for it.

If you decide the future is through a graduate scheme, try to make it accessible for existing workers, or have a route through for existing workers. There is nothing more annoying than being great and going the extra mile, doing the duties of higher level jobs and being told that you can’t compete because you have to have a degree.

If you want to source talent from within, then tie your succession planning to your appraisal/feedback scheme. It is the easiest way to have those conversations and help people work in a way that helps them aim for different roles.

If employees think they can progress in their own company, then they can be more likely to stay. Chart out career pathways for your staff so that they can plan for the future.

If your succession plan includes attracting talent from outside the organisation, make sure you have tapped the potential within first.

I have seen succession plans which have caused distrust and suspicion, the most toxic of employee attitudes. So don’t ruin great relationships with your employees; make your succession planning, business focused, fair and transparent.

What do you think? Do you have any recommendations to add? Do you have any views? I would love to hear from you. For more information and further blog posts.. visit our website

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Christina Lattimer


Read more from Christina Lattimer

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