Having a succession plan is a start.  Communication of your succession strategy is the next step. Getting this wrong can not only threaten your succession plan, it can also put your organisation at risk of internal conflict and disengagement.  Here is how to get it right…

As an employer, being confident that you have the right people ready to step into business-critical roles at the right time is no mean feat.  And many organisations agree they could do better when it comes to succession planning.  The issue is not necessarily the absence of a succession plan; in fact, in a study by the Corporate Research Forum (2012), 76% of companies surveyed said they had some kind of formal succession plan in place.

But simply having a plan is not enough.  A key driver of success is the communication of your succession strategy.  Deloitte (2013) cites lack of clear communication as one of the biggest threats to the successful transition from one generation of business leaders to the next.

With this in mind, here are our top tips for improving your communication strategy:

1)  Get succession planning on the agenda
Succession planning isn’t the sole responsibility of the HR Director.  Involve the Board in shaping and regularly reviewing your succession strategy.  Ask two key questions: Where is your business going?  What do you want it to look like in the future?  Consider your ideal leadership team.  Which key competencies should they have to minimise threats, maximise opportunities and achieve long-term business success?  Look objectively at strengths and weaknesses in your talent pool to create a desired skillset by which to assess potential successors.  From this point, you can create a robust, Board-led succession plan to cascade down through your business.  Kallidus Succession Planning can help here.

2)  Ensure team leaders identify and nurture talent
In a survey conducted by the Corporate Research Forum (2012), less than 50% of respondents said they have regular career conversations with potential successors, whilst only a third train their managers to identify and develop talent.  Your managers are perfectly positioned to identify prospective future leaders, and can provide vital background information that can mean the difference between inclusion and exclusion from your succession hierarchy. Managers should prioritise the development of team talent in line with your overarching succession plan, using a solution like Kallidus Talent Management.

3)  Practice fair and open recruitment policies
You may have a plan but not have clearly identified successors for every leader.  The issue with this is that if you have to fill a vacant position unexpectedly, you risk practicing crisis management: simply appointing the next person in line to take over.  Known as ‘dead man’s shoes syndrome’, this seemingly arbitrary recruitment approach can have unforeseen consequences.  Often the appointee lacks the right skillset for the role as they were not trained in advance.  This can result in underperformance, team resentment, internal conflict and, at worst, increased staff turnover.

Practicing fair and open recruitment policies can help minimise staff discontent.  Regardless of circumstances, ensure you promote vacancies internally and externally, so employees know you are looking for the right person for the role and not simply opting for a quick fix.

4)  Balance transparency with confidentiality
Succession planning deals with sensitive issues so it is crucial to balance transparency with discretion. Furthermore, there will always be a degree of subjectivity and fluidity in your analysis of potential successors.  Which types of information can and should be made public, shared internally or treated as highly confidential?    Take time to assess who needs to know what.  Above all, share your formal process and key criteria for choosing successors.  Being able to justify your reasons builds staff trust and engages your top performers in a clear development path to success.

We have collated these top tips from best practice that our customers have shared, and our experiences of succession planning at Kallidus.  We aim to create a fully comprehensive list so feel free to share your thoughts with us.

References
Deloitte (2013).  Business Succession Planning: Cultivating Enduring Value.  
Hirsh, W. (2012).  Planning for Succession in Changing Times.  Corporate Research Forum

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