Leadership Blog

Posted By: Eva Grabner | on September 15 2015

Succession planning – are you ready?

Succession planning, in the past, was reserved for the executive suite in businesses, it was treated as a contingency plan for the worst case scenarios. However, over the years we have seen a vast shift in succession planning best practices. Organisations now see the value in cultivating talent in middle and lower management as well as at the executive level.

This was an essential part of our roles as Department Heads on Cruise Ships. Quite often Managers would need to attend conferences or meetings off the ship, or there were situations where someone would get sick or need to return home because of a family emergency. It was imperative at all times that a strong succession plan was in place so that the ship ran as smoothly as ever despite a manager’s absence.

Also, on a personal note, had I not been given the opportunity to cover my Manager’s position during these breaks, I would never have gained the experience or confidence to move up the chain so quickly during my tenure there. That is one of the main reasons I stayed nearly 10 years with Royal Caribbean. There was always a succession plan in place!

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate that the average age at retirement is 63.4 years of age. As Baby Boomers hit retirement age, we can expect to lose a lot of talent and knowledge from the market place in the next decade.

I have discussed the importance of good staff management[i] and hanging onto those top performers[ii] in previous blogs, however, it is not always within your control to hold onto good staff. People will leave and you must be prepared for this within your business.

It is more important than ever for companies to focus on succession planning at all levels of management. Every day across the country an average of 8,500 people quit their job. They do so for a huge range of reasons; they move onto better opportunities , they relocate to be nearer family, changes in their personal lives that impact career choices and so on.  When a key person within an organisation leaves and there is no succession plan in place, that person’s boss will react to an unexpected situation by moving quickly to plug the gap without necessarily adopting a long term approach. Filling jobs quickly in this way rarely results in smart long term hiring decisions.

So where do you start? Whilst succession planning will vary from organisation to organisation, there are some best practices that you can implement ensuring that you are developing a strong talent pool that will ensure long-term sustainability:

  1. Identify the key positions – this is the first step in the planning process. Identify which roles are critical for the operation of the business, be sure to look at all positions from the top down. Just because a role is a leadership role does not necessarily mean it is a key role.
  2. Assess the talent pool – Once positions have been identified, assess the pool of talent surrounding those positions. How deep is that pool and what gaps, short term and long term, are there?
  3. Create development or performance plans – The leadership team should develop a plan to prepare high-performing employees for new opportunities. The required mentoring, training and coaching should be quickly identified and an action plan implemented.
  4. Incorporate succession planning into the review process – If a manager is not actively grooming a person (or people) to be able to take the core responsibilities of their job then they are part of the problem not part of the solution and should be held accountable for this failure of leadership.

Effective succession planning is a huge benefit to your business. Not only do you cultivate ongoing, proactive communication between senior executive and mid-level managers that tracks talent development, but staff shown a path that allows them to make valuable contributions to the organisation. It will build strength, improve retention, increase engagement, create clear career development paths and save you a lot of time and money when leaders take their final leave.

Eva Grabner
Managing Director
Elite Executive Pty Ltd
0409 59 11 88

[i] /elite-executive/leadership/people-management-are-you-a-leader-or-an-ostrich/

[ii] /elite-executive/job-interview/how-to-hang-onto-those-top-performers/