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Today’s succession planning: fast, flexible and out in the open


In the days of a 'war for talent', succession planning is becoming a more and more important way of developing and retaining highly skilled and talented employees.

Using “old boy” networks is fast disappearing; these days,organisations need to be quicker, more flexible and better prepared if they are to win the ‘War for Talent’.

The Institute of Employment Studies has commissioned a report to help people who take over responsibility for succession planning in their business. It takes a very practical approach to a complex subject and includes advice from experienced practitioners in leading companies. It presents some simple models of how to think about succession planning, and concludes with some ‘top tips’. IES staff can also help companies become more effective in this area through its evidence based consultancy services.

Key findings from the new report by Wendy Hirsh include:

  • It’s no time for picky planning - todays succession planning can't afford to be as meticulous as it used to be, because changes are happening in organisations all the time.
    Hirsh explains: ‘It is often better to plan for a collection of similar jobs than to try and identify specific successors for every single post. It is also better to have a range of next steps in mind for each person than to try and narrow this down to just one job, which may disappear. Succession planning has become less about filling key jobs in advance and more about developing the ‘talent pool’ of the business.’

  • It’s good to talk - Senior managers need to share and discuss what is being expected of possible successors objectively, and them let them know that they are of 'high potential' by inviting them to have an input into the process. Without them knowing how valued they are, it's easy for them to plan a future which doesn't involve the company they currently work for.

  • Someone has to do the donkey work - it's easy for succession planning to be put to one side while other more 'urgent' things are dealt with. Hirsh suggests an HR champion, which is often the usual place for responsibility to lie, but isn't always the most organised. Record keeping is crucial for this sort of thing, but the planning process shouldn't be the preserve of just one person.
  • A research summary of Succession Planning Demystified by W Hirsh, IES Report 372, appears at The full publication can be obtained for £19.95 from the IES.


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