Succession planning must be taken more seriously by business leaders, says Chris Underwood, managing director of executive search specialist Adastrum Consulting
With the UK economy improving, the war for top talent is greater than ever. Businesses invest significant time and financial resource in executing talent management strategies, but many fail to acknowledge the importance of succession planning.
Often seen as the poor relation of talent management, succession planning is not always given the attention it deserves. But if it’s not handled correctly, there can be severe repercussions.
Succession planning should feed into a wider talent management programme and take a long-term strategic view. A key part of this needs to be establishing what future potential looks like and how it can be nurtured.
Many organisations take the approach of looking at current top performers and earmarking them for leadership. Yet just because an individual performs brilliantly in a sales role, this does not mean that this person will excel in the many areas that are needed for good leadership. Merely focusing on performance does not take into account crucial elements such as aspiration or motivation.
Another common approach that businesses take when it comes to succession planning is to bring people up in silos, without exposing them to other business functions and operations.
Good succession planning should first identify who has potential – beyond current performance indicators – and then look to expose these individuals to different areas of the business. For example, if employees are going to be managing multi-disciplined teams, then they need to have an understanding of each of those disciplines.
It is not always possible to fill gaps from within, but if you’re looking to appoint potential leaders externally, then organisations need to ensure they look to the future.
Although it may be tempting for the existing leadership team to hire replacements in their image, to do so may be to ignore the issues future leaders will need to address.
Succession planning strategy
The business world is changing rapidly, with new models and technologies turning traditional practices on their heads. Just look at the profound effect the digital revolution has had in recent years.
Future leaders must have the skills to operate in a brave new world and it may be that some organisations need to look into non-traditional market sectors to find the right talent.
It is never too early, or too late to address succession-planning strategies, but it must be viewed as a long-term journey and embedded in the talent management and development culture.
It is also vital that an organisation’s current leadership team take succession planning seriously and dedicates the time needed to regularly discuss approaches and progress. If this is ignored, then sooner or later businesses will pay the price.