Leadership Series: The Power of Succession Planning

Throughout this 7-part Leadership series, we have discussed how to bring the best out of yourself to optimise your performance as a leader. The honesty and authenticity of your approach provides you with the opportunity to influence all of those around you in a more positive and compelling way. The same is true for those who report into you. You want to bring the best out of them. Succession plans are essential in all organisations for many reasons.

Let’s start with the reasons succession plans are essential for you and for all organisations:

  1. If you are not able to develop key talent to a point where they could take the next step up, why on earth would your business ever consider promoting you to a position of greater responsibility? They won’t, so if the company doesn’t have an organisation-wide succession plan system in place, get working on one for your area.
  2. If there is an unexpected resignation, sacking or retirement in a position you have your eyes on, you better make sure there is someone suitable to replace you or you won’t be going anywhere.

Now let’s look at succession plans make for a better working environment.

  1. The future of the business success relies on its future leadership – contribute to that to the best of your ability. A succession plan benefits the business today – by working towards one one, you’re effectively developing leadership through your team.
  2. A succession plan also gives the next layer of the organisation a voice, and this creates a sense of responsibility throughout the business. Encourage your direct reports to bring their own personality to the fore, play to their strengths in the same way you do, perform in ways which are truly energising for them so that the business sees them in their most engaged and productive states.
  3. The plan should be aligned to a vision that everyone shares in. It’s not as clinical as “you need to be prepared to fulfil my role if I get hit by a bus”, it’s far more than that. It’s about cascading a purpose throughout the organisation. It’s your opportunity to embed the positive culture and values that the company breathes.
  4. Most progressive businesses will actually see succession planning as an essential characteristic of their key leadership positions. They’ll want to see this sort of commitment to developing others before promoting into the position in the first place. Whether it is stipulated or not, you will most likely be appraised against this criterion.
  5. Being forced to hire from outside the firm is slow, laden with additional risk and very expensive. The expense of recruitment is one thing. But the upward pressure on salaries caused by persuading the right person to leave a position, in which they know they can perform, to join another is considerable.

So how do you develop a succession plan?

  1. Well first you need to identify some key people who are most likely to deliver value to the business by excelling in your area. Remember, in time the requirements of the role may change for any number of reasons, so be sure to have a few potential candidates.
  2. Think about what you can bring it. A succession plan will allow you lead more effectively, rather than simply managing. You’ll be contributing to the fostering of positive influence throughout the business. It is about trust, inspiration and people.
  3. Your direct reports will vary in terms of experience and technical expertise. So the level of direction, support, coaching, participation and delegation will vary accordingly as you develop them. Of course, management comes into it as well. There will be some knowledge and skills gaps to be filled, and that will be particular to your line of work.
  4. By allowing your direct reports run with some of your tasks and responsibilities, you empower them to learn through experience. Should they get it wrong along the way, it is critically important to support them through that by helping them understand that failure isn’t a bad thing, it is part of the job and part of learning. There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.
  5. Help them understand what caused them to take the actions they did, what the implications were and let them tell you what would be a preferable approach next time. Even if they’re wide of the mark in their review of the mistake, let them know what they were right about and then add in the rest of the detail. We learn far more from our mistakes than we do from everything running smoothly. That level of support is transformative.
  6. Change is a constant. For your business to thrive in a constantly changing environment, you need the next generation of leaders to go within themselves to find solutions to challenges instead of going to a staff manual and looking for an obsolete answer. They need to be developed how to think, not what to think.
  7. Succession planning is the very essence of leadership development. It’s a chance for you, those who work for you and the company as a whole to express your talents in an effective and productive way.

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