Succession Planning

Succession Planning

What is succession planning?


Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business-critical positions, either in the short- or the long-term. In addition to training and development activities, succession planning programmes typically include the provision of practical, tailored work experience relevant for future senior or key roles.

The role of EMDS HR

Succession planning sits inside a very much wider set of resourcing and development processes called ‘succession management’ which includes management resourcing strategy, aggregate analysis of demand/supply (human resource planning and auditing), skills analysis, the job filling process, and management development including graduate and high-flyer programmes. EMDS HR can help you – we have a key role to play with each of these processes.

While succession planning needs to be owned by line managers, and should be actively led by the chief executive (who has a key role in ensuring that it’s given importance by other senior managers), If you call on EMDS HR, we will play a critical role in supporting and facilitating the process.  We will compile all the necessary information on potential candidates through designing and managing assessment processes and information support, including the development and maintenance of any relevant databases.

Which posts are covered by succession planning?

It’s possible for succession planning schemes to include individual senior or key positions or to take a more generic approach targeting a ‘pool’ of positions for which similar skills are required.

Individual positions
Succession planning typically covers the most senior jobs in the organisation, together with short-term and longer-term successors for these posts. The latter group are in effect on a fast-track and may be developed through job moves within various parts of the business.

This focus on the most senior posts means that even in large organisations, only a few hundred people at any given time would be subject to the succession planning process. The relatively low numbers involved can help make the process more manageable. That said, many large organisations attempt to operate devolved models in divisions, sites or countries where the same or similar processes are applied to a wider population.

Who uses succession planning?

All organisations need to be able to find people with the right skills to fill key positions.

Traditionally, large blue-chip companies ran highly-structured, confidential and top-down succession schemes aimed at identifying internal successors for key posts and planning their career paths to provide the necessary range of experience. But with growing uncertainty, increasing speed of change in the business environment and flatter structures, succession planning of this sort has declined.

A further problem with traditional succession planning was that it failed to take account of non-managerial roles – a brilliant scientist, for example, who might be crucial to the future of the organisation and who wanted to stay in a research role.

In a climate of enduring skills shortages and lack of confidence in the leadership potential within the existing workforce, interest in succession planning has revived. Yet, recent reports suggest that despite growing investment in leadership development, the improvement in leader quality has stalled. Modern succession planning looks quite different from the old version, with a broader vision, greater openness and diversity and closer links to wider talent management practices.

Links between succession planning and talent management programmes

Talent management covers a wide range of activities designed to recruit, retain and develop talented individuals – with a focus on attracting external talent as well as nurturing internal talent.

Nurturing internal talent

While many employers aim to attract certain highly-talented individuals from outside the organisation for key or senior positions, this aim is likely to be balanced by a desire to promote widely from the home-grown talent pool. This will be particularly relevant where there is a high degree of organisation-specific knowledge, for example in the case of IT professionals in business-critical roles. Some commentators believe that leaders developed from within tend to be more successful than those brought in from outside. Succession planning can help with keeping talented individuals as they are made aware of internal opportunities available to them to progress their careers. Succession planning is therefore central to the internal element of talent management programmes.

Openness, fairness and diversity

Employees need to understand the succession process, the methods used to judge potential successors and the kinds of jobs that are considered suitable for each individual. Hence the previously confidential nature of the succession planning process has been reduced, and advertising of senior internal jobs is more common.

With openness should go fairness; objective assessments of all available candidates need to be made, and succession development committees (under a variety of names) exist in many large companies to review and challenge key talent and succession plans and to examine how to improve the process.

With the business case for diversity now widely recognised, employers are also increasingly aware of the need to ensure that diverse talents are properly developed and that diversity considerations are built into talent and succession processes.

There’s no one model for succession planning as its focus is likely to be quite different in small and large organisations, although it can be equally vital in both. All organisations need leaders and managers with a range of experience. Management training and development activities alone cannot provide the hands-on experience that is crucial in making future leaders.

Succession planning is an important way to manage the delivery of that experience, complemented by management training and development activities, and aligned with business needs. Organisations need to ensure that they continually review and develop their succession plans to meet current and future skills, capability and behavioural needs and to ensure that succession planning is closely aligned with evolving business priorities.