Succession planning: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail
Friday, November 11th, 2016

In today's uncertain economic environment, safeguarding business continuity is a key priority for organisations the world over.

Succession planning and managing the internal 'talent pipeline' has therefore become a major concern for HR professionals.

Believe it or not, headhunters, whose role is often wrongly assumed to involve just poaching top talent from others, also share these concerns.

That's because succession planning should not be considered as just an organisational issue, but also an individual concern. It is equally important in terms of developing individuals and making sure you are maximising and maintaining their interest; investing in someone and setting a key pathway for their progression breeds loyalty.

If done correctly succession planning allows an organisation to retain its best talent and in return makes it more appealing to new talent. When organisations are known to be good at succession planning it attracts a strong field of external candidates for job roles because people feel they will be invested in if they join, which will ultimately help boost their profile and reputation.

Many German organisations are really good at making sure they properly identify and invest in top talent, and employee loyalty is stronger in Germany as a result.

We are not as good at doing this as systematically here in the UK, particularly in the public sector. While there are more robust processes in the private sector, cost is still a factor that stops many organisations actively embracing it. To do it properly there needs to be a mix of a formal programme and informal development, with dedicated coaching and mentoring.

However, I have found an increasing number of clients admire the German model and would like to move towards it.

I am a huge advocate of early succession planning and ensuring that people's talents are maximised in a way that benefits both them and the organisation.

I'm passionate about not just finding the best talent for the organisation but helping them grow talent from within, working with CEOs and boards to help identify where their stream of talent is coming from and to put talent development programmes in place to help them improve succession planning.

In fact I am so keen on organisations developing their own talent that one of the first things I do when given a new recruitment assignment is to look at the quality of internal candidates.

I carry out a mapping exercise to investigate the quality available within the organisation to provide an objective view.

With the growing skills gap and the fact that today's employees are less loyal than ever before, the internal talent 'pipeline' has never been so important.

In particular, I believe businesses should be developing millennials as leaders as early as possible in their careers.

They should have systems in place to spot potential leadership talent and to nurture it at every step on the career ladder.

It's not just about developing the next generation of leaders though; thorough succession planning should involve preparing to replace any key role with the minimum of disruption.

Often companies with good systems in place have identified roles that would be difficult to replace, those which require significant technical knowledge relating to their particular processes and systems, for example, and recruit with that in mind.

Organisations in Germany and the US invest a lot in that fast-track kind of model and essentially future-proof their recruitment.

It should start right from the beginning when you are recruiting somebody; ask yourself what might that person be able to do in five years time, where might they be able to be placed further down the line?

If you have in mind what your organisation ought to be doing over the next half decade that should influence the way you recruit today.
Individuals recruited today in mid-tier roles should in theory be eligible to run the business in future.

It's often said that self-responsibility is the solution to the challenge of succession planning, and I'm a big advocate of this; there's a lot to be said about taking matters into your own hands.

High-performing individuals will proactively seek out opportunities while focusing on their own development - investing in mentors, networking and keeping up to date on their subject areas - which will increase their employability and ability to move between sectors.

But we can't take it for granted that individuals will shoulder that sort of responsibility. In my view it is everyone's obligation - from boards and CEOs to HR departments and recruiters and even headhunters - to ensure succession planning becomes an integral part of the employment landscape.

In this case the old adage has never been truer - by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

A version of this article was originally published in The HR Director.

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