All firms need to consider what will happen to the business in the future, no matter whether the firm is small, medium-sized, or a national. In my experience many do not plan for succession, leaving them up against a wall when key individuals resign or decide to retire. Which could be a problem. Possibly a big problem. What if a suitable successor cannot be found?
Succession planning should, in my view, start with recruitment. Consideration should be given not just to whether the applicant has the right qualifications, the right experience, and whether they will fit into the team or business, but also whether they could one day succeed somebody else. Just filling vacancies shouldn’t be enough. Why would the business not prefer a successor that they know, who has a track record within the firm, somebody that they have nurtured, and somebody whom the firm has confidence that they are the right person to succeed?
The downside with not planning for succession from within is that a firm could end up employing an external successor who might on paper be right for the role, might come with excellent references, and might even come with a personal recommendation. But the gamble is that in doing this without knowing that person, will they turn out to be the right person? Is the gamble worth it when the firm could, and should, have an alternative strategy?
Why would the business not prefer a successor that they know, who has a track record within the firm
The firm might also want to consider the cost of recruiting externally. This can be expensive and time consuming, and the market availability of suitable candidates at the point in time a recruit is needed may prolong this further. And the firm could end up having to recruit somebody who’s experience and qualifications are less than they would want because the right person isn’t out there.
On the upside however, we do have today that is massively in our favour is that the need for the right geographical location is no longer an absolute prerequisite. Providing the right person is recruited, with the right skills to master distant and remote working, this opens a whole new avenue to a firm.
When growing somebody to be a future successor, the firm should consider and plan as to how they will progress them. This is easier if, for example, the firm is aware that somebody is considering retirement or leaving at a known point in the future. More often than not the firm will only get contractual notice. The ideal route with progression planning in not so much how fast an individual progresses from joining the firm to being in a position to succeed, but to grow them to a point where they could succeed but the position may not be available.
A careful strategy needs to be employed here. Obviously, the firm doesn’t want the person they’ve grown to get to a point where they cannot progress or can’t succeed and then they leave, so whatever target position is required needs to meet both their expectations and the firm’s as well. For example if the firm is looking to find a successor at some point in the future for the head of Para-Planning, this target position might be something along the lines of a deputy head of, or perhaps a team leader.
When succession planning is not included in the recruitment process a firm could find itself in a position where they may be forced to recruit externally. For example, the firm might have within the Administration Team no one who is either suitable or willing to replace the Team Leader. A Para-Planning Team may have several highly qualified individuals who all enjoy their work (and quite often these days a high degree of autonomy) but who have no desire to lead the team. Maybe there is an experience gap where less experienced Advisers may not be ready to replace the more experienced Advisers. Or perhaps there is nobody willing to replace the Sales Manager. The further up the chain of command the harder succession planning becomes. These examples demonstrate the position a firm may find itself in if it had not considered succession planning as part of the recruitment strategy.
One final thought. Whatever firm we work for, who would succeed us, the Training and Competence specialists? It’s not just the experience that we have, it’s also the personal approach that we have to the role. That’s not something easy to replicate with an external replacement.