Succession Planning to Achieve the Vision

To achieve the vision and mission, organisations must have a strategy, and that strategy needs to be brought alive through a number of activities, namely: effective leadership, policies, workforce planning (resources and skills currently required) and succession planning (future resources and skills).

Succession planning is principally a contingency plan to ensure that ‘key’ roles – board or specialist - are replaced quickly upon the retirement, ill-health, death or termination of its predecessor – to safeguard the stability and continuity of commercial activity.

Within many organisations, it has become mutual practice to reserve succession planning for their ‘top talent’, i.e. CEO and board positions. Whilst these roles are essential to business, leadership skills are fundamentally transferrable, and can be sourced across sectors. Indeed, two of the main hospitality giants recruited CEOs from outside the hotel industry: Hilton International Hotels welcomed Ian Carter from Black and Decker as Chief Executive, and Andrew Cosslett joined Intercontinental Hotels Group from Cadbury Schweppes.

I’m an advocate of retaining skills, but in my experience, the board of directors also need to focus further a-field on business critical roles – functions that would have a greater impact on productivity, if lost. And with fierce competition from Asia, etc. it is essential for UK industries to be competitive in quality of skills and revenue.

Society is progressing at an incredible pace and industries need to meet the demands of their customers, whether that is advancing in the automotive industry, rail, healthcare and medical equipment, IT, or consumerism.

Leaders with good business acumen and the right skills will drive and engage their organisation but it is the electronic, civil or mechanical engineers, the scientists, biochemists, and IT specialists that will realise those changes and production to meet consumer demand.

The production and stability of the economy are dependent upon such skills, and it is for this reason that directors need to look beyond the boardroom and focus their talent management and succession planning on specialist functions.

The majority of models available focus on the identification and development of individuals who demonstrate the potential to progress to senior positions, with very little support for specialist functions. My advice is to be proactive, rather than reacting to resolve a critical situation.

It should not be a complex or onerous process, added to the demands of daily challenges, but should address the following:

  • Understand how your business needs to grow – organically, significant investment or in product or service diversification?
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis – what are your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, when it comes to performance, sustainability and skills? Consider both internal and external factors, for example, legislation, demographics and the economy?
  • Key questions to consider include, but are not exhaustive:
    • What key skills are required now and for the future?
    • What does excellent look like in relation to behaviours and skills?
    • Where are the gaps, or surplus in skills?
    • Who currently holds these key skills? Is there a diverse range of trained staff?
    • Are skills transferrable from other job functions?
    • What further training or development is required to meet the requirements or standards?
    • What would the impact be if the business lost 1/4, 1/3, or 1/2 of these skills – through retirement, move to a competitor, ill-health, etc?
    • What is the current employee turnover rate? Reason?
    • What is required to retain these skills?
    • Is the company brand and package attractive to new talent?
    • Are employees resilient to manage the pace of transformation?

This will determine the action required to attract, develop, retain and plan potential successors to those who will leave in the future.

Create a straightforward process that outlines:

  • Objectives – recruit, apprentice or graduate schemes, redefine roles, re-train externally, on-the-job internal development and coaching, etc.
  • Benchmark - create a competency behaviour framework and skills  matrix to measure against
  • Timescales – short, medium and long-term
  • Budget – identifying the most economical approach
  • Resources – partnership with colleges or universities, external consultants or training providers, etc.
  • Review – continually assess to ensure the process is achieving its objective

This needs to be a living and continuous process that aligns with the business strategy and vision and is clearly communicated throughout the business.