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Five tips for effective succession planning


A sound succession plan that is implemented correctly, is a fundamentally important component of good human resource planning and management.

Although succession plans very often places the focus on only the most senior individuals in an organisation, such as the CEO and CFO, it is of critical importance that the succession plan be extended to critical positions necessary to fulfil the organisation’s business strategies.

According to the June 2017 HR Quarterly published by PwC, the succession process involves the identification and assessment of the organisation’s current and future needs and requirements as regards their business goals and strategies, over the short and long term; and assessment of the capabilities of the existing workforce and matching these capabilities to those required; as well as the identification of any possible gaps which may arise if key critical staff were to leave the organisation or move between positions.

The process will furthermore involve the identification of employees within the organisation who have the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and drive necessary to become possible successors to identified positions, and the development and grooming of these employees to enable them to fill key critical roles in the organization.

In order to truly establish a culture of formalised succession planning, executives, senior managers and leaders of business units will need to be involved in the succession process, understand the process and be actively engaged in ensuring its success.

The report offers the following principles that serve as a high-level guide for managing succession in an organisation:

  1. Establish succession management within the organisation: the aim should be to have a pipeline of solid and high-performing leaders within the organisation who are able to take over from and build on the success of their predecessors. Talent development should be a priority and should be integrated within the organisation’s culture.
  2. Establish who will be responsible for managing the succession process: in order to avoid ineffective succession planning and possible conflicts, the roles and responsibilities of each person involved in the succession management process should be clearly defined upfront so as to ensure effective management and collaboration. Typically, the responsibility for proper succession planning and management will rest with the board, the CEO as well as HR management.
  3. Establish an integrated succession management process: the aim should be to ensure that the organisation develops and maintains a solid and cohesive leadership team which can drive the organisation’s business, as well as to ensure that the organisation has access to the key critical skills necessary to operate as effectively as possible.
  4. Ensure thorough assessment of potential succession candidates: a key aspect of proper succession management is to position and develop the right people in the right roles at the right time. Often succession plans fail due to the initial assessment of succession candidates either being flawed or superficial. Typically assessments will take the form of performance reviews, interviews, group sessions and evaluations, self-assessments, psychometric tests and simulations. Identified individuals need to be properly assessed to ascertain whether they have the necessary skills, knowledge and potential to be or become potential successors. More than one individual should be identified to be developed as a possible successor per identified role. Ideally this step should recognise both the strategic needs of the organisation, as well as the individual aspirations of each identified candidate and should preferably be done as early as possible in each identified candidate’s career so as to ensure sufficient time and space for the necessary growth and development to occur.
  5. Actively develop identified successors: once candidates for succession have been identified and assessed, each individual should have his or her own specific development plan created which identifies developmental objectives as well assignments that will assist the candidate in accelerating their readiness for their future roles. An effective approach to the development of leaderships to provide them with assignments which require the use and development of the skills which they will need in order to succeed into their future roles. Coaching and feedback, together with practical experience will assist the candidate’s development.

Succession planning is important to ensure that the organisation will have a continued supply of staff members who are ready to step into key critical roles in the organisation to continue its operations when executive directors or key critical staff members leave.