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Succession planning is a vital part of future-proofing a business’ long-term viability. But while most organisations have some form of planning in place, the question remains: are they truly planning for the future or are they focusing on finding a fix for their current issues?

In the digital world of today, workplaces are changing to incorporate the latest and greatest technologies, replacing admin-heavy processes with reliable automation. We have seen first-hand how digital technology has become integral to roles in every industry, with hand-held devices cloud technology, AI tools and delivery details now seen as essential, rather than a ‘nice to have’. And, as such, while the skill sets continue to shift – with IT and technical literacy now top of the priority list, it seems the manual skills of the past are no longer as in demand as they used to be.

Of course, as the technically literate millennial workforce starts taking over these jobs, the need for basic IT training will lessen. But this in itself unearths a bigger problem. The Office for National Statistics identifies 63.5% of the UK population as being between the ages of 16-24, but by 2034, this is expected to fall to 58.5%, which will result in a shortfall when it comes to the number of people available for employment. And as automation increasingly takes over certain tasks, basic training will have shifted to allow for this – meaning that some legacy skills will be virtually obsolete within the human workforce, while other skills will be far more commonplace. So, in just 14 years time, it seems that businesses will face the very real prospect of an overall candidate shortage – as well as an unbalanced pool of workforce skills to hire from.

Finding an answer as skill sets die out
As businesses increasingly have to contend with a loss of ‘older’ skills, they have a choice – they can search for the specialist skills they need in a diminishing pool of candidates, or they can adapt.

By considering the combination of competencies, qualifications and memberships needed, businesses are able to identify the talent profile that is required for each job – ahead of time. Though many companies have never had to do this before, it’s an essential part of succession planning in a new world. The worst thing a business can do is simply replace employees with like-for-like candidates when they move on and instead, they should consider what they really need from the person performing the role and hire for that instead.

The benefits of employee engagement platforms
Using recruitment agencies to identify candidates with the right qualifications and competencies is expensive. Similarly, hiring people on short-term contracts or on an interim basis can also be costly when the skills are required long-term. Developing existing employees and equipping them with the necessary skills is the only sustainable solution – and if this can be done through an employee engagement platform where employees can identify the requirements for their job or other vacancies, and then apply for courses to achieve those requirements, businesses will also have the added effect of boosting and extending their employee engagement.

Employee engagement platforms can offer a powerful match and gap analysis which identifies suitable successors for key jobs. Employees can then identify gaps in their knowledge and use ‘learning’ functions to either book onto an existing course or request a course that isn’t yet provided. Not only does this maximise the use of internal training courses, but provides a quick analysis of training needs to identify where additional courses may help individuals – or if there are specific gaps that need addressing across the whole workforce. 

Above all, these platforms can help businesses keep pace with changing job requirements to help leaders cultivate a skilled workforce – from the lower levels right up to the executive positions – securing a successful future for the business.

Looking to the future
Directly replacing employees is looking backwards. Succession planning is all about looking forwards. Often, businesses mistakenly believe that succession planning is only relevant at the executive levels of an organisation, but to support the flatter structures and cross-team set-up of future workplaces, this thinking needs to be reversed. To enable rapid response and optimum delivery, it is equally if not more important to implement a plan at the lower levels. 

There are several key considerations for businesses to take into account when putting succession planning into place, such as how a more flexible structure will support business outcomes, how skills can be leveraged to deliver future outcomes, where current skills shortages lie and which skills will be required in the near future. By utilising HRIS and employee engagement platforms, businesses can better identify which key jobs need to be filled, whether the skills that are needed can be fulfilled by an existing employee, and whether that existing employee might be prepared to take on a new role to fit with the businesses changing needs.

Increasingly, the rigid, traditional team hierarchies of workplaces gone by are no longer fit for purpose – and embracing a new kind of structure that provides flexibility and adaptability will help businesses future-proof themselves. By adapting and flexing in line with shifting requirements, businesses can leverage HRIS and employee engagement platforms to their advantage – recognising skills gaps ahead of time, but also identifying opportunities for existing workers to step into the breach. The future of work will bring more project teams, flatter structures and tours of duty, and as such, businesses must plan ahead if they want to avoid putting the future of their business at risk. Without succession planning, organisations will not be prepared for the changes in the external environment – so to be successful, adopting this approach is essential. And of course, in a working world that is governed by ROI, investing in this new way of thinking will pay dividends in years to come.

Andy Davies, Head of Global Enablement, MHR

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