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How to avoid succession planning mistakes

We caught up with Senior HR professional, Diane Jolly, to get an insider’s view on how to avoid common mistakes and make better use of your existing talent. As an HR Director with over 20 years of experience working for leading companies in the technology and engineering sectors, Diane Jolly knows a thing or two about delivering an effective succession strategy.

Diane cited as an example, her search for a successor when a Managing Director announced his intention to retire in six months. Previous MDs had come from sales backgrounds and the Board was keen that the replacement should too. Diane's succession plan had pinpointed the Sales Director as the feeder role, but the person in this position was new to the business and a step up wasn't yet on the cards.

Diane had however identified an Operations Manager within the business, who despite not having the sales background preferred by the Board, was keen to grow into a broader role.

Working to meet the Board's desire for more sales experience, Diane prepared a Talent Development Plan. Key features included appointing a company executive as an internal coach and an ex-CEO as an external coach, and Diane arranged for the mentoring to fit within her tight six month timescale.

When the time came for the operations candidate to step into the MD role, Diane's succession plan, combined with the talent development plan, had accelerated her transition. Both Diane and the Board agreed that the she was a great fit for the role.

She told us, “You could tell she approached the MD role from a different angle; she was more measured and inclusive than her predecessors, an approach that the local business team appreciated, especially operations." She added, "Was she the most natural MD in the beginning? No. But she was effective and made a positive impact right from the start. Five years on, the business continues to achieve ambitious targets, which demonstrates why succession planning is vital to continued success."

Diane has this advice for those businesses faced with similar challenges:

“Of course, your succession plan needs to be agile; writing it is only the start of the journey. When faced with a challenging situation, the succession plan will point you in the right direction, but it won’t provide ready-made answers”.

It is crucial for a management team to invest the time in finding the right person, otherwise you are likely to make the wrong decision and waste more time and money further down the line.”

Look out for more articles on SWP, how to implement a plan into your business and the benefits of succession planning.

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