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Blog : The importance of succession planning


The importance of succession planning

I always use January as my month to plan and prepare for the coming year. It is never too early to starting planning because you don’t know when something unexpected will happen and throw you off course. And of course it’s a very important time to set your goals.

Take the recent news from Apple for example. CEO Steve Jobs has had to take an unexpected period of absence and will only be involved in major strategic decisions. In his absence Tim Cook, Chief Operations Officer, will step up to the plate and lead day-to-day operations for the company. Apple’s shares quickly fell as a result.

With a CEO, who is so connected to the success of the company’s products and services, now absent for an undisclosed length of time; it raises the question of succession planning. Will Tim Cook truly be able to take up the huge Apple mantel and ensure competitors are not able to take advantage of what could be a potentially unstable few months or even permanently? I believe he will and fortunately has stepped into the role previously when Jobs was absent for ill-health reasons. Then he won significant praise for his ability to make Apple’s operations continue in the absence of its leader and, as a result, is commonly thought of as the person who will eventually take on Apple CEO role.

For a large corporation like Apple, having a strategic and robust succession plan in place would be part of business make up. A survey by Wendy Hirsch highlighted that 58% of UK organisations reported having a process for identifying high-potential leaders, which still leaves 42% of organisations attempting to solve the issue of no leader whilst knee deep in the crisis itself.

So, whether you are a large corporate or small boutique operation, thinking about and planning for your future is vital. How do you ensure the right person is able to step up to the mark when they have to? The CIPD highlights the following as some of the key features of succession planning:

Coverage – succession planning tends to be for the most senior roles in a business and take into consideration both short-term and long-term successors for the position. This focus means the process is a lot more manageable and only very ‘high potential’ candidates are carefully selected. However, some organisations do operate succession planning in divisions, different countries or sites with a smaller group of people. What would work best for you and how far down the ladder do you want to plan for?

Balance – succession planning used to be all about an organisation’s needs; however, times have changed. With a new generation moving amongst the business ranks (Gen Y who are much quicker thinking, shorter attention spans and think more about work / life balance and achieving their own goals than money); companies must consider the individual in the succession planning process. Look at the wants and needs of your successors and try to balance your requirements with those.

Not just vertical – previously succession tended to be for upwards moves only; however, with fewer management opportunities available it is much more likely a successor will at some point move laterally rather than permanently vertically. This should not be viewed as a negative however as by moving sideways the individual can also obtain a much more diverse skill base which will benefit them in an upwards move once available.

Competencies – most businesses have a set framework for competencies which relate to skills and behaviours. Your succession planning should relate to this framework, incorporating it into your performance appraisal system. It is important to highlight, however, that you shouldn’t underestimate your people. Skills like leadership are acquired over time and therefore should be taken into consideration. Also, don’t disregard someone because they don’t fit the mould in every aspect, after all one size doesn’t fit all and sometimes for the better.

Where is the business going – succession planning is as much about business planning. Where is the business aiming to be in five, 10, 20 years and what skills are required to get it there? Consider these questions when putting your plan together.

Databases – some systems, like our talent toolbox option, allow you to link skills and behaviours to available jobs. This should continue to be monitored whilst in the succession programme because, as previously mentioned, sideways promotions can help develop the individual with a much wider set of skills. These programmes can also provide you with the management information you need to analyse the workforce and identify the ‘diamonds in the rough’ – those, who with development, could be the leaders of the future.

How have you planned for the future? Do you have a succession planning process in place?

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