The Secret Recipe for Effective Succession Planning


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

What is succession planning, why does it matter and how can you apply it to give your company a competitive advantage?

Article 5 Minutes
The Secret Recipe for Effective Succession Planning

No matter how hard you strive to build a great workplace for your employees, there will always be a natural ebb and flow of people coming in and going out.

Whether it's through retirement or simply personnel wanting a change of scenery, change is the only constant when it comes to employment.

What isn't always regular, though, is the ways in which companies anticipate these transitions and fill vacancies when they arise. Planning carefully will make for an easy ride, but failing to have an accurate roadmap at the ready will increase the risk of you hitting bumps along the way, particularly when it comes to managerial roles being left empty.

That's where succession planning comes in.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is the process of identifying and focusing on new talent that is capable of filling positions within a business when the need arises. It takes a proactive approach to recruitment, rather than forcing HR teams into reactive positions should current post-holders leave unexpectedly.

The idea is that if employees are properly prepared to assume new roles at some point in the future, they can step in seamlessly as soon as opportunities arise without the need for major projects and initiatives being interrupted.

Why is succession planning important?

Having a succession planning process in place helps you lay the foundations for long-term success and prepare for future challenges and projects, thereby boosting confidence and efficiency at various levels of the business.

If you do it well, you can expect to see benefits including:

  • Protection against absence shocks
  • Better understanding of skills gaps
  • Ensuring workers pass on what they know
  • More effective training and development programs
  • Improved retention
  • A stronger employer brand

The succession planning process: 6 steps

To make sure key positions within your company are filled successfully, it's important that HR leaders adhere to these 6 steps:

1. Decide which roles need a plan in place

Although it might seem as though you only need to prepare for the loss of key managers, you'll probably find that you actually need to dig deeper and have a plan in place for more than just the top-level positions.

In order to do this, it's a good idea to take a look at as many employees as you can and work out exactly what they do each day. You might be surprised at just how many of their tasks would require cover should they suddenly hand in their notice.

Start at the top and work down, creating reference guides as you go that will help you to work out which jobs require succession planning and where gaps could be plugged if needs be. This should, in turn, help to make it more obvious who could be shuffled around and where new hires would be essential.

2. Keep company objectives in mind and hone staff accordingly

Good succession planning should look at the organization's requirements before choosing the right person, rather than grabbing a person and forcing them into a role. That's why it's vital to have regular conversations with employees about career development so you're aware of their talents and how they might apply to company objectives.

This will have the added advantage of ensuring workers feel more valued - and they may therefore be more likely to share information that could help with your succession plan.

3. Make sure the chosen ones know

If you're carefully assessing your high-profile employees and carving a path for them so they're primed to take on leadership roles, it's vital to tell them this. Failing to mention a person is next in line for a great job could lead to them assuming they have limited prospects at your company and moving on.

This applies to new hires as well as existing members of staff - if they feel they have a path for growth, they will be more likely to stick around.

Similarly, this step will ensure you're made aware quickly if the chosen employee's career goals don't match what you had planned and you need to select someone else for succession.

4. Keep others in the loop

Making the rest of the company aware of the succession plan is another vital stage in the process. Although this might sound polarizing - and some employees could indeed be upset - it may also present opportunities.

For instance, seeing people achieve their goals could motivate other members of staff to request their own career development plans, which will result in an improved skills pool and more options when it comes to future succession planning without external hiring.

5. Create a mentoring initiative

The passing on of knowledge within organizations is crucial. Implementing a mentoring scheme to facilitate this could ensure those next in line for key roles have the qualities they need to make a smooth and successful transition.

According to recent research from Torch, 92% of mentees report improved confidence in handling challenges at work, which could translate to lower training costs further down the line.

6. Keep it updated

Once you've created a succession plan you're happy with, don't fall into the trap of thinking your work is done. Your strategy should be regularly reviewed and measured to stay on top of personnel changes and the evolving needs of your business. Revisiting it every six months is a good rule of thumb to ensure your plan stays relevant and applicable.

Putting in the work will pay off in the long run, as your business will be in a stronger position to tackle adversity and take full advantage of the opportunities that come your way.

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