No-one is indispensable – start your succession planning now!

Last week the media circus went crazy speculating whether ITV’s Saturday Night Takeaway show could continue without one of its main presenters Ant McPartlin, one half of the highly acclaimed partnership Ant and Dec.  Now we’re not here to comment on the reasons for his absence, but we thought it was a good example of how, no matter how big the personality, or how integral that person appears to be – no-one is indispensable!  The show continued and was as upbeat and entertaining as ever with a team who visibly pulled together to support each other (well done Dec & team!).

Another very sad example is that of Steve Jobs and the Apple Corporation.  When he stepped down in 2011 shares in Apple fell by £6.1bn as investors worried about the future of the company.  How would it survive, he was the visionary, he drove the pace, he was Apple!  Yet it did survive and although Steve Jobs will never be forgotten, Tim Cook has taken the company from strength to strength with a highly diverse product range, loyal customer following and innovative team.

Don’t get us wrong, if one of your key members of staff decides to leave (for whatever reason), it can lead to an immediate panic and you may even try to persuade them otherwise – but people will leave your organisation so isn’t it best to be prepared?  No-one is indispensable – start your succession planning now!

Succession Planning

The CIPD identify Succession Planning as ‘the process of identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business-critical positions, either in the short- or long-term.  The aim is to be able to fill key roles effectively if the current post holder were to leave the organisation’.

It seems such a straight-forward and sensible thing to do doesn’t it.  But all too often we are so focused on getting the job done (often with limited resource) that we either fail to factor in the practices and development time to implement succession planning, or we become reactive to situations and only address them once they hit our ‘critical’ list.

There are often cases where the experienced member of staff is resistant to share their knowledge (knowledge is perceived as power), and individual ways of working/expectations can cause their own problems, especially when you have generational differences (see our previous blog ‘The battle of the generations at work’).

So, you can’t just assume that your more senior members will naturally share their experience and you can’t just expect that a more junior member of the team will be able to ‘step up’ if their Manager leaves.

You should be building succession planning practices into your ongoing performance management process – ensure senior personnel are given the time to pass on their skills and expertise and give junior members the time and support to learn and implement them (before it becomes their ultimate responsibility).

Competency Frameworks

A key element to succession planning is identifying competencies that are required within the organisation to achieve both the strategic and tactical goals.  You can then assign those defined competencies to specific individuals and ensure they are measured accordingly.  Some may have ‘stretch’ elements to them and require aligned development plans, but again, regularly measuring achievement against a set of defined criteria will ensure ultimate success and actually drive a highly engaged/innovative culture.

Career Aspirations

Of course, it’s no good identifying someone for succession planning if they are not demonstrating the right behaviours or putting them on a development path that they have no desire to follow.  One simple way is to refer to your existing performance management process.  Do you already include a section on Career Aspirations?  Does it capture their short to long term personal goals? Do they have any constraints to consider (work/life balance is becoming increasingly important to all generations)?  Are they willing to relocate if required?  Much of the information you need to assign valuable budget/resource will be contained within this area and by aligning it with evidence of how they are performing in all areas including objectives, values and behaviours and competencies you should be able to identify initial personnel that you wish to approach.

Transparency

The final part of succession planning is to make it transparent.  Some organisations operate a ‘Top Talent’ programme where a select few are identified early and put on ‘fast-track’ management programmes – these can be viewed as quite elitist and you may have an absolute superstar sitting in your back office full of ideas and energy just waiting to shine!  So, by making your succession planning opportunities transparent you give everyone something to aim for, to put their hand up and say, ‘I’m interested’.  The other element to this is to be transparent about when you need to recruit externally.  Home-grown talent is great, but fresh thinking and specialist skills may need to come from outside so don’t be afraid to bring new people in.

We hope that’s given you some food for thought on how to prepare for people leaving.  It’s fantastic if you have a high performing team, it’s great to be that company that people want to work for, it’s also important not to allow people to feel they can demonstrate bad behaviours because they are ‘indispensable’ – but it’s also human nature that people seek out new opportunities (whether that be a new job or retirement) and wouldn’t it be great to know you’ve got it covered!