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Learn why your business needs to succession plan

Most of us have Facebook friends who are smitten by lifestyle gurus urging us to live in the moment and savour it with all our senses. As the popularity of mindfulness shows, many find it a useful way to relax and it can help improve mental health.

But as most advocates of mindfulness readily acknowledge, enjoying each moment as it unfolds does not mean that we don’t also need to plan for the future. Indeed, knowing that we have done so frees us to enjoy the present more.

Otherwise, when we’re trying to appreciate the smell of our morning coffee or a dewdrop on a cobweb, niggling thoughts tend to barge in. Such as, ‘I really should take out a health insurance policy’ or ‘Oops, I’m going to miss the deadline for my tax return’.

As an ancient Chinese proverb puts it, “A person who does not worry about the future will shortly have worries about the present.”

We could add that an HR director who does not worry about the future - or at least plan for it – could shortly be out of a job. And, by definition, few aspects of an organisation require thinking about the future as much as succession planning.
Now, more than ever, the process of identifying and developing people to fill business-critical positions that could become vacant is a key priority for organisations big and small.

This is because we are living in extraordinary times. For instance:

  1. There are ramifications for employers and workers from the surprising election result in June, with the government weighing the political cost of continued austerity and public sector pay caps.
  2. There is the on-going uncertainty over Brexit, which is adding to concerns about skills shortages and external supply issues. Negotiations to leave the EU have a long way to go and it seems unlikely that highly-skilled workers will be pushed to leave the UK. But uncertainty on how far freedom of movement will be affected has already led to a reduction in the number of EU citizens coming to work in Britain.
  3. And, like a constant drum-beat, is the awareness that in a fast-changing business environment and with technological advances coming at a dizzying pace, we don’t even have a clear idea of what some of the jobs of the future will look like. Who would have thought a few years ago that there would be jobs today such as drone photographer or gaming “shoutcaster”?

To play an influential role in succession planning, HR must be knowledgeable about their company’s objectives and how the business is likely to evolve.

This is important in determining who is likely to be leaving (voluntarily or otherwise) and who might be the best person to step into the breach. Planning should be flexible so that it can adapt along with changing requirements.

HR’s role in the process varies from company to company. There’s no single model.
At its best, succession strategy is a team sport, a collaborative effort that brings C-suite and HR together. HR, as custodian of the process, facilitating it, supporting it and driving it forward, can help to:

  • Identify “key man risk” and evaluate how difficult it would be to replace key personnel if they suddenly left the company.
  • Identify the jobs that will be essential to achieving the company’s future objectives – and establish whether it already has the people who can do them or can nurture in-house talent to fill the positions.
  • Create an employee L&D programme that incorporates training, coaching and mentoring other staff members to build knowledge in various parts of the organisation.
  • Determine whether a sideways move into a different department within the company could provide useful extra development experience for those in succession planning programmes. Because UK organisations today are less hierarchical, with fewer layers of management, people can’t always gain experience by upward moves. Secondment opportunities are also a useful way to provide broader development opportunities.
  • Design and manage assessment processes, including the development and maintenance of any relevant databases.

In addition, HR will handle the administration involved in succession planning – bringing together all the relevant information on potential candidates, checking their references, arranging interviews and so on.

Essentially, succession planning is about risk. It involves preparing successors, which reduces the risk to a company. But they must be allowed to gain experience by taking on roles they are not quite ready for – and this requires a degree of risk-taking.
By getting the balance right and planning well ahead, you can then live in the moment during your time off – without worrying.