The basics of succession planning and why it’s useful

March 28, 2022

The concept of succession planning has been around for some years.  It is a process that focuses on identifying and growing talent to fill leadership and business critical roles in the future. But how do you get to grips with succession planning and how might it help your business?

What is the purpose of succession planning?

Succession planning helps identify future potential leaders, the development employees require to successfully fulfil these roles, and the timescales likely to apply.  Succession planning therefore requires a business to identify the roles that are key because of their seniority and/or because of their criticality to the business.  Depending on the size of a business, succession planning may apply to a small proportion of the workforce, however, larger organisations often apply it on a divisional basis so there is company-wide planning.

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Succession planning can greatly benefit any business, here are some examples of why it’s a good idea:

  • It prepares your business for the future
  • It highlights where a business is vulnerable in terms of skill gaps so you can start addressing them at the earliest opportunity
  • It highlights the roles key to the running of the business
  • It protects the business from sudden change
  • It helps to retain key talent – employees will feel valued if they are part of a succession plan
  • It promotes training and development
  • It makes the business become less reliant on certain individuals

All of these benefits can apply to a small organisation just as to a larger employer, and the process doesn’t have to be onerous or lengthy.

Steps to follow for effective succession planning

What are the typical activities of succession planning, especially if you are a smaller business?  Here are some steps that tackle the basics:

  1. Identify the positions for which a succession plan is necessary – in order to do this, consider how critical each particular role is to the running of the business and what the impact will be if the position becomes vacant. Consider also whether any person currently in the identified role(s) holds all the relevant and significant knowledge and whether they have any key external relationships.
  2. Identify the potential successors – a business may well have one or more potential successor. Consider whether any individuals who have demonstrated they have the knowledge, skills and experience (and desire) to move to the next level and give some thought as to how long it will take for them to get there.  Is there a plan if the current incumbent leaves before the planned successor is ready?
  3. Identify the job requirements – it is important to understand and break down the key requirements of those roles identified in the succession plan and understand the following:
    • What are the key components of the role?
    • What skills, experience and competencies does any successor need?
  4. Bridging any gaps and developing competencies – the next step in the process is to understand whether there are any gaps in the competencies of the planned successor(s) and how they might be bridged. A development plan to address the gaps can be created and this can also indicate the timescales over which the competencies will be developed.  This action plan will be different for each individual considered to be a potential successor.
  5. Communication – communicate to the potential successor(s) that they are on the succession plan and get their input into the development plan. This helps gain their buy-in and it is always worth checking they aspire to a senior or business-critical role – not everyone does!  Making the employee aware they are on a succession plan is also a great motivator and can help with retention.
  6. Review progress – this needs to happen on a regular basis so that progress against the plan can be measured. It is helpful if the plan establishes what good looks like so, for example, if the gap is around leadership experience, then what are the indicators to be used to show that progress has been made in this area?  Feedback from others could be one indicator.

Succession planning is a useful exercise to carry out for any business.  Obviously, the scale of the exercise will vary dependent on the size of the employer, but it is certainly a helpful way to future-proof any small organisation in terms of roles and skills gaps.

 

If you would like any further advice on succession planning, do get in touch.