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What is succession planning?

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Last editedDec 20202 min read

If your business is running smoothly then may not have given much thought to the question of succession planning. After all, if things are going well and profits are on the rise, why would you think about how you’d replace key members of your team? However, this is exactly the time when the succession planning process should play a part in your thinking. Why? To make sure that current success is embedded in future development. 

The basics of succession planning

No matter how good an employer you are, staff will move on from your business from time to time. They may take up a role at a different company, or even start a business of their own. Succession planning is the process of preparing for key departures by working with members of the current workforce to ensure that some are equipped and ready to step into key roles. Organising a smooth succession in this way offers continuity and removes the disruption and expense incurred when hiring and training new employees.    

Decide which posts are covered by your succession planning

Audit your employees to pinpoint the positions and/or individuals that are critical to the business. The plan you put in place could focus on specific senior team members, or could take a more generalised approach, aiming at identifying a pool of people with the skills needed to move into key roles across the company.

Proactive succession planning

The next step is to take a proactive approach by shifting employees around via secondments and ‘job swap’ arrangements to broaden the skills base and experience of the employees you have singled out as having that potential. 

A succession plan template

The details of any succession plan will differ across workplaces, but concentrating on certain basic features will help to maintain the smooth operation of your business:

  • Identify the most important positions in your business, and assess what the impact would be if the employee in each position suddenly left. How would day-to-day operations be affected, and how long could you afford for that to last? This will focus the need for a clear and effective succession plan. 

  • Identify the members of your team with the potential to step up. Ask yourself if they would need training for the new role, and if so how long and what form would that training take? Be guided by your assessment of potential rather than by any existing hierarchy. 

  • Before firming up your succession plan, speak to the people you have in mind. Some employees whom you think have the potential to step up may resist the extra responsibility inherent in a more senior role, while others may indicate they’d grab the chance with both hands. 

  • Emphasise to your chosen potential succession candidates that nothing is guaranteed, and any actual succession depends upon circumstances. Point out that this cuts both ways, and that a change in their own circumstances could lead to them moving away from your business before the succession planning comes to fruition. 

  • The key to successful succession planning lies in investing in the personal development of the employees in question, whether that means training, job rotation or work with external and internal mentors. This means strengthening the skill base at your disposal on an ongoing basis, while the individual has their long-term prospects enhanced whether the envisaged succession takes place or not.  

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