Crash Course in...Succession Planning

One of your key managers has handed in her notice, but the person you had earmarked to take over has already jumped ship.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The other candidates in the department are all duds. How could you do better in your succession planning?

Put it in context. Succession planning must be carried out in the context of your overall business strategy, says Maria Yapp, MD of business psychologists Xancam Consulting. 'It's not just about identifying potential. People who'd be successful in the top jobs today might not be in five years.'

Look ahead. Take account of the broader pic-ture, not just individual roles, says Sue Filmer, a consultant at HR company Mercer. 'It's about understanding the flow of critical business skills – where they are moving to, where they are coming from. And you may have a chunk of retirement coming up in the next 10 years, with lots of expertise about to walk out the door, so you have five years to bring the next generation on.'

Who's included? Don't just plan for top-tier management; consider those at the pressure points of the organisation, says interim manager Hugh Francis. 'It may be someone relatively junior but who has core knowledge; the plan has to take account of the transfer of that knowledge.' Each department should formulate its own plan.

Think laterally. Nobody suitable in that department? Look in unlikely places. Someone in fin- ance might have the potential to run your research team. And don't assume you know who all the good people are. 'Having seen someone present to the senior team, or picking those with whom you regularly interact – eg, lawyers and accountants – doesn't qualify as a talent trawl, and will not be perceived as fair,' warns Lucy McGee, marketing director of global HR consultancy DDI.

Talk to them. 'Organisations tend to assume all good people want to get on the board, but it's not always the case,' says Yapp. Ask them about their ambitions and commitment. And don't disenfranchise those who are not chosen or don't want to be.

Act on it. Once you've identified potential successors, groom them for the challenge. 'Carry out a robust gap analysis to measure them against your template,' says McGee.

Pool, not grid. It's best not to be too prescriptive when you draw up a succession plan. 'I think it's a hostage to fortune to decide that one of two people is going to be your next CEO,' says Yapp. 'Better to develop a cadre of high potentials and make the decision when you have to.'

Keep it under review. Some of your successors will move on and others may look less promising, so constantly monitor your succession plan.

Do say: 'We're developing people with the experience and contacts to be our leaders of tomorrow.'

Don't say: 'This is my mate Robin, who'll be taking over from me when I retire in 10 years' time.' Alexander Garrett

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