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What now for succession planning?

It is crucial for any business, whatever its size, to identify its key positions and develop action plans for talented people to move into them when the current occupants move on.

It is crucial for any business, whatever its size, to identify its key positions and develop action plans for talented people to move into them when the current occupants move on.

Even the most successful companies will suffer if they don’t have a solid strategy for identifying and developing future leaders – not just at the very top but for major roles at all levels. Succession planning is key in helping your business prepare for all contingencies by identifying high-potential workers for career advancement.

The current candidate climate is at its most turbulent since the 1970s, with the impacts of Brexit and Covid both playing a part in a national shortage of skilled staff and a transformation of ‘normal’ working patterns that has seen employees demanding more and more from their employers.

I’ve said to the industry before that these contributing factors have seen the “jobs-for-life” philosophy that saw workers stay loyal to one employer for decades get replaced with a culture of staff willing to jump ship to whichever company offers the best deals.

But there is also an increased desire from workers for “life-long learning,” giving them a chance to develop new skills and grow in confidence and ability.

In the current climate, solid succession planning and sourcing those candidates with the long-term ambition to grow and develop within the business is more important than ever before.

Unemployment has fallen to its lowest rates in decades but there are currently more jobs available than suitable skilled candidates available to fill them – a situation that won’t change in the near future as no political party would get public backing for an open border policy that could potentially alleviate it.

Without a greater migrant workforce, businesses are struggling to find suitable candidates to fill their ever-increasing list of job vacancies and are currently having to battle against each other to attract and retain those with the required skillsets.

Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to have been mentored by some great people in my career – each of whom emphasised the critical importance of effective succession planning to retain and promote talented staff. As a result of their input and support for my personal development, I have always treated mentorship as an ongoing ‘apprenticeship’, regardless of the level of learning involved, and this philosophy is one businesses can use to identify the right people to take the company forward and truly nurture their development and progression.

Attracting the right candidates initially who have the potential to progress in the business in future requires innovation from a company and the ability to stand out as the most attractive prospect amongst the competition. Competitive salaries, flexible working options, additional benefits such as free parking and organised social events, ‘buddy schemes’, well thought-out inductions and opportunities to develop additional skills are among the things companies could look at introducing to get the best workers on board.

And then it is vital every business has a solid succession planning process in place to ensure those talented candidates are supported to enable them to move into more senior roles.

Business should be proactive with their succession plans. Sometimes they’ll know well in advance that a hard-to-replace team member is leaving – such as a planned retirement – but for others they’ll be caught off guard. Which is why it’s so important to plan in advance.

All key roles of the organisation should be considered alongside the questions of what the day-to-day impact of the position in the company is and how operations would be affected if the person currently in the role was to leave.

Once consideration has been given to the effect the departure of certain employees would cause, team members who could potentially step into those roles need to be identified – along with whether they would need training and, if so, what type.

While the obvious successor to a role may be the person immediately next in line, it’s important businesses don’t discard other promising employees who display the skills and attitude necessary to thrive in higher positions. They then have to know they are being singled out for potential promotion, ensuring their own career goals are in line with that of the business. Not every person has a senior management role in mind so it’s important to have talks in advance of roles coming available with those in line to establish how they view their professional future before succession choices are made.

Investment into the professional development of succession choices is vital for businesses and it needs ramping up once succession plans are being made, including connecting with mentors who can boost their abilities in a range of areas to ensure their suitability for the roles they will one day take on.

Businesses shouldn’t wait for a crisis to test whether a candidate has the right stuff to assume a more advanced role. It’s a good idea to have a potential successor assume some responsibilities of a manager while they are on annual leave, for example, to give them both valuable experience and the opportunity to shine in the role. This system will also allow businesses to assess whether their chosen candidate may need some additional training and development before the role becomes permanently available.

Solid succession plans can also integrate well into a business’ hiring strategy by highlighting any talent gaps that may open up if those currently in critical roles left the organisation – meaning recruitment efforts can be focused on candidates with specific skillsets going forward.

It’s a well-known phrase that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ – and it’s crucial employers remember this when it comes to identifying – and developing the skills – of those talented workers destined to be the leaders of the business in the future.

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