Seven Steps to Successful Succession Planning

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Have you thought about where your company is going to be in a year’s time? What about five years’ time? And have you thought about which of your staff are likely to still be with you? Or, more importantly, which are likely to leave? 

The loss of key employees can seriously hamper your efforts to achieve your goals, so it’s essential to ensure you have prepared others to step into the gaps that are left as people leave, or as your business expands. 

Succession planning is a critical, but often-overlooked, process that provides for the inevitable changes that occur when leaders resign, retire, are fired or even die. It prevents a potential management crisis and ensures your business will continue to run smoothly. 

So what is succession planning? It is a strategy for identifying, recruiting and developing employees to fill key roles within your organisation in order to ensure you will never be left with a role unfulfilled. 

Here are our seven steps for successful succession planning:

1. Start today

Even if you don’t think you have to worry about finding a replacement for a role any time soon, it’s a good idea to start looking for promising individuals as soon as possible. After all, if you’re unable to find them internally, you might have to start looking outside your organisation, which can take some time. Even if you do find the talent within, it can take some time to share valuable IP and train them up. 

Some organisations make the mistake of informally identifying people but the advantage of a more formal system is that other senior leaders know who is available for potential promotion in all areas of the organisation, which means they will be able to consider the best people for the job when a role opens up. It also shows a commitment to mentor and develop the employee so that he or she is ready to take over.  

2. Promote from within

There’s no two ways about it - it's more expensive to hire new people in, especially at senior levels. Companies need to run advertisements, pay recruiters or ask staff to spend company time sorting through applications and doing interviews, which can all take up hours upon hours of valuable company time. 

There is also evidence that people hired externally are paid more than internal people of a similar level. Add to that the fact that hiring externally subconsciously tells internal people that they are not "good enough" or that their opportunities are limited and your morale and commitment is certain to suffer. 

Another risk is that jobs can remain open for long periods of time, which can delay projects or reduce the effectiveness of day-to-day operations, which is then compounded by the loss of productivity experienced when onboarding new people, as it could potentially take months (or even years) for them to really get to grips with your business and its culture.  

3. Share your vision

To effectively do succession planning, you must identify your long-term goals. This will enable you to identify and understand the developmental needs of your employees in order to help your organisation achieve your vision. 

Share your vision and succession planning with human resources and senior leadership and start to focus on key employee retention while starting to look externally to fill any gaps you might have internally. 

From an employee point of view, knowing that their employer or manager has plans for their future builds loyalty and sees staff focusing on their own self-development and career progression too.  

4. Provide mentoring and training

Once you’ve identified the employees you need for your succession plan, you need to develop them. Help your subordinates identify their developmental needs and start building learning objectives into their KPIs. Offer mentoring and training, that will help them develop new skills and refine the ones they have. Let them spend time with their superiors and do on-the-job shadowing so they have time to observe them in action. Move them into other positions, assign them to special projects and give them leadership roles in order to give them the opportunity to explore a broad range of situations and departments that might require anything and everything from technical acumen, to tact and diplomacy.  

5. Keep track

Keep track of your employees’ achievements or when they do particular well so that you have a record to refer to when a management position opens. While an obvious successor might be the second in command, a record like this will help you to weigh up other worthy employees against the obvious ones…it’s true that good ideas, and talent, can come from anywhere! 

It also improves your efforts to retain your best performing staff members, as they will appreciate the time you have taken to take note of their achievements. There’s nothing quite like recognition to make people want to do their best. Plus, if they’re able to see a clear career path in front of them, it’s bound to motivate and engage them.  

6. Test them out

If one of your senior staff is going on leave, for any period of time, it might be a worthwhile idea having one of your potential successors assume some of their responsibility for the duration of their holiday. Not only will your employee will gain valuable, on-the-job experience, but it will also give you an opportunity to establish how prepared they are to take on a bigger role, and how the rest of the team responds to them. After all, it’s very well placing someone with the right technical know-how, but there’s something to be said for “fit”. Is the person the right fit for the team? Do they get on well with everyone? How do they respond under pressure? Can they handle conflict in the workplace? All those are important questions to ask and for you to take note of during this trial period.  

7. Develop and Recruit

As much as we’ve said it’s important to look within your organisation for key employees first, the succession planning process also provides an opportunity for you to identify any talent gaps that might require you to recruit externally. 

It’s also worthwhile remembering that even after you’ve got the right people on board (at all levels), it’s essential to continue developing their knowledge, skills and abilities so that they’re equipped to grow within your organisation and take on promotions when they become available. 

It’s this that guarantees you will always have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill the new roles. 

So if you have your eyes set on the future, then it’s time you started thinking about who’s going to replace you. 

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