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  • Writer's pictureNick Howell

Succession Planning - How It Can Help Your Business

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

The impact of employees entering, moving within, and leaving a company is one constant all businesses experience.

As we know, many of these changes have a tendency to arrive without notice, with little time to reactively and effectively manage.

Without a prepared plan, your business becomes open to avoidable risks, not to mention missed opportunities for your business and employees.

Succession planning is a process that better prepares you on how you will replace your leaders, managers, and other key roles in the smoothest way possible, reducing the negative impact on your business and employees.

In this blog, I cover the key benefits, the approach, and what to avoid on your succession planning journey…

Key Benefits of Successful Succession Planning

There are many benefits to incorporating succession planning into your business, here are just a few:

  • Allows you to confirm key roles in your business, where your risks are, and how future gaps can be filled (either internally or externally).

  • Allows you to identify immediate gaps in your succession plan and to develop actions before any situation becomes a larger issue.

  • Ensures that you have the best chance of retaining your best talent and knowledge capital and that your employees have the best chance to grow, develop and be successful within your business.

  • Provides clarity for development planning, i.e., soft skills training, coaching, shadowing, and networking. It ensures that when the time comes, individuals are prepared and ready for the opportunity and importantly setting them up with the best chance of success.

  • Reduces the risk of a vacuum of knowledge occurring when unexpected change occurs. Having a better chance of developing others with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a new position and reducing the negative impact on your business.

  • Allows you to check that your recruitment process is fit for purpose and is ready if external recruitment is required. Consider clarifying role descriptions, skills needed, and your recruitment approach.

  • Allows you to react quickly and efficiently when the time comes to make a change, with the least impact on your business. Not all changes will be foreseen.

  • Focusing regularly on succession planning provides you with the best opportunity to grow a strong talent pool within your business over time.

What’s Included In A Succession Planning Process?

  • Succession planning typically involves leadership & line management coming together on a regular basis to discuss key roles and employees. The makeup of who comes together will depend upon the size and structure of your business.

  • A rounded conversation occurs that incorporates key role requirements, the incumbent's career aspirations and situation (e.g. are they retiring soon?), performance, and potential with a similar discussion on potential successors.

  • The process usually sits alongside your performance review and career development process.

  • A forward-looking view should be included in regards to what your business needs are going forward. Link this to your strategic plan and operational requirements.

  • Ensure a strong chair leads the process. Always qualify feedback and observations about an individual. Is this a direct observation and relevant? Avoid third-party anecdotal views, favouritism, and protection from within team structures.

  • Ensure everyone is sufficiently prepared to input and discuss what is needed. It's a good idea that participants are familiar with the process before the main meeting takes place.

  • Foster an environment that allows for all relevant voices to be heard in the process.

  • Include the right feedback when individuals are discussed not only by line management but others who may have sufficient and relevant exposure to the individual.

  • Utilisation of a non-biased and objective system is beneficial to remove emotion and inconsistency from the process...

Consider starting with the ‘9 Box Grid Process’ (first developed by McKinsey in the 70’s and widely used by many organisations). Placing and discussing individuals within the grid can serve you well in identifying readiness for promotion or where other action may be needed. Over time you will find that you can track your employees' trajectory.

  • Keep your plan live and adjust on a regular basis.

Your Key Outputs

  • Leaders and Line Management should end up with a much clearer view of where the priorities, risks, and opportunities lie.

  • Specific actions should be identified to take planning forward. You should always leave with 'at least' one actionable item for each employee and role discussed. These could include for example:

    • Development opportunities such as shadowing, exposure to other parts of the business, relationship building/networking, and training.

    • Recruitment process readiness.

    • Takeaways to re-define roles, skills or organisational structure.

    • Further developmental and positive feedback provided.

    • Further career path discussions.

Pitfalls To Avoid

As with any process, there are some common pitfalls to avoid when it comes to effective succession planning. Here are a few:

  • Not keeping your succession plan relevant or up to date. The plan should be seen as a live process across the year with regular touchpoints. The more regular this is, the less time it will take to maintain.

  • Not using a planning system that takes the emotion out of the equation (see 9-step grid above).

  • Focusing on favourites in the business. It’s important the succession planning conversation is managed strongly by someone who can maintain impartiality and allow for all relevant voices to be heard.

  • Hearing from voices that may only have third-hand and anecdotal feedback on an individual. This can muddy the view; decisions can be made based on information that is not factual. Challenge this kind of feedback in a positive way within the process.

  • Not including the voices that have important feedback. It’s not only direct line management that can have important input to provide.

  • Assuming everyone wants to move. A successful business can have a mix of employees who have the performance and potential to move and those who are strong performers who wish to remain in their role.

  • Not feeding back the outcomes and keeping the process a secret from the employee. Successful businesses ensure open and regular conversations are had with employees relating to their career progression and opportunities.

  • Not having regular developmental and career conversations with your employees. There should be no gaps in knowledge on where an employee stands and there should always be an action plan, this allows you to remain up to date and able to react to opportunities and reduce risk.

I hope the information above goes some way in helping to lay out some key principles of why good succession planning should be such an important part of your business plan.

If you feel it would be beneficial to explore your succession planning process, do feel free to reach out to me, I would be happy to discuss where we can partner together.

Nick is a Life, Personal Development, Career & Leadership Coach based in Norfolk, England & coaching virtually worldwide. Through his work with individuals and businesses, he helps unlock potential. Helping his clients achieve success and happiness in their personal lives and careers -



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