Futureproofing the Organisation through Succession Planning

April 10, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-succession planning

Imagine this scenario; one of most valuable and promising talents, the COO of your organisation comes and tells you that she has been offered a lucrative position she cannot refuse and that she will be leaving the organisation in three months right after the notice period expires. Now what? There is no one in the organisation that can assume the position. In my career as a Management Consultant and an HR specialist, I have seen this scenario unfold many times.

The choices you are left with are:

  1. Promote someone internally and hope that they will be able to develop the necessary competencies very fast (deep inside you know that this is unrealistic and this will leave a huge operational gap and generate a ton of problems), 
  2. Ask HR to employ someone suitable in two months so that the current COO can handover in one months (finding a suitable candidate on such a short notice is even less realistic than the first option and probably very expensive).

Many leaders consider succession planning as expensive and time consuming nuisance but you should look at it as a crucial practice for organisations to ensure business continuity, smooth operations and long-term success.

Succession planning is a strategic HR tool aimed at preparing successors for key strategic positions in the organisation; therefore, it is the responsibility of the CEO in coordination with HR to create a clear strategic direction of the organisation and its dependency on the organistion’s key talents.

Succession planning starts with identifying key business positions (KBPs) of strategic roles, these positions are crucial to the organisation and their vacancies lead to business disruption. These positions are usually quite visible and reaching consensus around them is usually a straight forward exercise. 

Once you identify the KBPs you will need to develop a Success Profile where we detail what are the competencies of the ideal candidate for this position (think of this as creating a persona for the ideal client in marketing). Start with asking a question “if we had no constraints and we could attract any person to assume this job, who would that, be?  Think big and do not limit yourself to what talents you have or had at your organisation (what competencies made Jack Welch a great CEO of GE?). 

Now comes the hard part. You will need to identify potential successor candidates for each KBP. Ideally, this assessment needs to be objective and fair steering away from politics and favoritism. I know that this is easier said than done therefore, if you have doubts, it is a good idea to get an external service provider to do this assessment using assessment tools including competency based interviews, personality and psychometric tests, reviewing performance evaluation results and using the 9-box tool for identifying high potential candidates. The outcome of this exercise is the identification of two to three high potential successors for each KBP. So what if you do not find any suitable candidates internally? The answer is to understand that Succession Planning is a long-term and continuous process in the organisation and not a one-off project. If no suitable candidates are identified, you should look outward and include the position is your next recruitment plan.

I have never heard that an organisation was able to identify a successor that completely fits the Success Profile (if this has happened to you, consider yourself very lucky since this is a very rare occurrence). More often than not, you will find a successor who has gaps that can be filled through a customized Individual Development Plan (IDP). You will now need to develop an IDP for each successor including the developmental interventions and timeframes to close the competency gaps towards the set Success Profile.

Finally, you will need to continuously monitor and realign the succession plan to ensure the successful implementation of the IDP and ultimately the succession plan. This is done through the interim and annual Employee Performance Evaluations.

Like everything else in business, nothing is permanent and fixed and a lot of external factors and internal changes might necessitate changes to be done to the Succession Plan. So the Succession Plan needs to be reviewed annually or whenever major internal or external changes occur.

I know that it looks like a daunting process but if done well succession planning can ensure:

  • Business Continuity and Stability: Succession planning provides a course of action when a key role of strategic importance leaves the organisation. By having a plan in place, the organisation can minimize disruptions during personnel changes.
  • Talent Retention: Succession plans demonstrate that employees are valued. They provide a clear direction for career advancement. Employees included in succession plans are more likely to stay with the company.
  • Organisational Clarity: Staff understanding of who will fill a position fosters stability. Knowing the succession plan reduces uncertainty and provides stability for employees.
  • Mitigating Disruptions: Succession planning extends to all levels of the organisation. It identifies and nurtures talent, fortifies the foundation for the long term, and mitigates potential disruptions.

In summary, succession planning is not only about replacing leaders but also about safeguarding the organisation’s future, maintaining stability and strategic focus.

Agnes Mouawad

Management Consultant, Vanguards Consulting

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