The importance of a good succession strategy
Of all the many challenges firms or institutions face, succession can be one of the hardest. The better the leader, the harder this can be and the more prepared teams need to be. If you’re lucky a long-standing leader will give people notice and may be involved in the process for choosing their successor. In less happy circumstances, executives die, get ill, or simply burn out. One of the most recent examples would of course be the late Queen Elizabeth II. Not only was Her Majesty long-serving and much loved, Queen Elizabeth was also deemed to be a wonderful monarch. Naturally, her successor is pre-chosen, and much planning went into preparing the then Prince of Wales, but I’m sure much planning went into the communication strategy, testing the succession plan, and starting this process early. Successful firms also start early, but the corporate world is littered with not so successful transitions and so what should firms be doing to plan for succession and avid the many pitfalls?
Clearly, the best thing to so is to start early. Given most CEOs of listed businesses are in situ less than five years, firms need to assume that the day will come, often very soon, that there will be a key change of personnel. Whilst CEO tenure is short, my experience is that executive tenure isn’t much longer below CEO level. Succession planning, continual review shouldn’t be hidden from view either. The more a firm is open about the fact it has a plan to deal with a sudden departure, and the better it communicates this, the smaller the disruption in the event the plan needs to mobilised at short notice. Colleague buy-in is key to the plan’s effectiveness and in giving the successor every chance to succeed.
Once the selection committee is formed, it’s key that their progress is monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure that the key objectives are being met. Assigning key tasks to individuals on how the transition will be managed is very important. Often committees are appointed post an event, but as part of successful firm’s ongoing talent strategy it’s essential that internal future leaders are identified, developed, and invested in, as part of business as usual. Investing early in future leaders via mentoring and coaching is essential for a firm’s long-term health.
I’ve always felt it’s important that existing employees feel they have a real shot at getting promoted, but it is essential that firms don’t always promote from within (but good if they do regularly rather than always). External perspectives and know-how only strengthen a business. It is also unhealthy that colleagues assume promotion based on time served. Ambitious firms, sports teams, orchestras etc. all work hard to attract the best talent in their field, rather than just aspiring to choose those in their squad.
In the intense COVID and post-COVID times of huge swings in business activity it’s easy for firms to look at internal risks, but succession planning is one of the best investments you can make.
About Fram Professionals
Fram Professionals is a specialist professional services recruitment consultancy based in Bedfordshire. We work with clients within the university “golden triangle” region of London, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Contact us on [email protected] or call 01525 864 372 for an informal chat about our services.
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