Written by Sam Dow | 3rd April 2023

Employees are promoted, leave businesses, and retire every day, sometimes unexpectedly, which is why you need a solid succession plan in place to ensure positions are filled by people who have the skills and expertise to do the job.

This isn’t easy to do in the current climate, with the impacts of Covid and the cost of living playing a part in a shortage of skilled staff and change in ‘normal’ working patterns that has seen employees demanding more from their employers.

Gen Z in particular, no longer see a role as a ‘job for life’ and are willing to jump to which ever company offers the benefits and opportunities that meet their needs. This makes it harder to plan for the future and identify who is next in line to fill critical positions.

For this reason, finding employees with a long-term ambition to grow and develop within the business is more important than ever before.

What is succession planning?

It’s the process of identifying and developing top performers and potential leaders to ensure they can progress in the company and move into roles that are vital to your business’s competitiveness and continuity.

Traditionally succession planning was about filling the top-level leader roles, but it can involve major roles at all levels. There may be non-managerial roles – roles that require certain expertise that you cannot afford to be unfilled.

Most of the time, succession planning happens with internal candidates as it’s more cost-effective to develop and promote people from within.

Approach to succession planning

As an employer you should be proactive with your succession plans. Sometimes you’ll know well in advance that a hard-to-replace team member is leaving, such as a planned retirement, but for others you’ll be caught off guard, which is why it’s so important to plan in advance.

All key roles of the business should be considered alongside the question of what the day-to-day impact of the position in the company is and how operations would be affected if the person currently in the role was to leave.

  1. Identify potential employees

Once you have decided which positions are critical to be filled, employees who could potentially step into those roles need to be identified, along with identifying what training and development (including coaching and mentoring for example) they may require in order to progress to such a role (see talent development below).

While the most obvious successor to a role may be the person immediately next in line, such as an Assistant Manager to a Manager, it’s important not to discard other promising employees who might display the skills and attitude necessary to thrive in these higher positions.

  1. Communication

Employees then need to know they are being considered for potential promotion, ensuring their own career goals are in line with that of the business.

Not every person has a senior management role in mind, so it’s important you communicate with them early on to understand how they see their future at the company and what their career goals are.

  1. Talent development

Investment into your people through training and development is vital but should be ramped up once succession plans are being made.

Effective training programmes can equip employees with the skills they need to excel in their jobs. They can also feel more confident and satisfied when they are better equipped to tackle their responsibilities.

You should consider each person’s training needs individually. Identifying their skills and knowledge gaps can be done through assessments and conversations with them and their manager. You also need to determine what type of training suits each employee, as people learn in different ways. Try creating a programme that incorporates multiple interactive learning styles such as lectures, group discussions and online learning.

Mentoring is also a great way of developing top talent, which is valued by employees. In a recent survey of 3,000 workers, of 86% believed internal coaching and mentorship will help advance their careers. Other results show employees perform better, have more job satisfaction, and are less likely to leave when they are being mentored at work.

  1. Lateral moves

It’s important not to forget that not every succession plan needs to be about moving upwards. Many organisations today are less hierarchical, with fewer management layers. So, an employee may want to move ‘sideways’ into a different job, to upskill and gain knowledge and experience of working in a different area within the company.

Here are some of the benefits of succession planning:

Ensures business continuity

In the case of an unexpected departure, a succession plan reduces risk and disruption. It means your employee is not thrown in at the deep end to figure it out as they go, which may end up in them leaving the business.

If the employee starting a new position has had the training and opportunity to work with the person they are replacing, knowledge and expertise can be transferred, rather than lost when that person leaves.

It gives employees a clear path of progression

Career progression is sometimes more important to employees than salary and may be a reason why someone decides to leave a company. People want to be challenged and they want to be moving forward – they don’t want to be stuck in a rut.

Working with your employees on a succession plan communicates that their role has a guaranteed career path, it shows them that you’re committed to keeping them in your business, and moving forward, for the long run.

Some things you could give detail of include the training and development programmes they have access to, any mentoring systems you have in place and examples of other employees who’ve worked their way up in the business.

Improves engagement and retention

As we mentioned above, having access to development opportunities and a clear path upward in an organisation can have a significant impact on the motivation and engagement of your teams.

Sharing your plans early and often allows employees to contribute towards their career progression. Finding out how they want to grow within the business and asking for their thoughts about how you can help them get there, can help reduce the risk of losing that team member.

Especially after a year where job security could not be guaranteed, showing candidates that your company is invested in their growth and development will allow them to see a potential future with the business and ultimately provide a sense of future job security.

Succession plans can benefit both the organisation and the employee – not just ensuring replacements for key leadership positions at the top, but for employees across all levels to ensure people feel valued, challenged and see their own opportunities for future growth.

Today’s workforce is evolving, and salary is no longer the sole reason that people are moving companies, more often it’s in search of a satisfying position.

If you have any questions about succession planning for your business, or need support developing training programmes, or outsourcing your HR please get in touch via [email protected].