Making a success of succession

When I first started out in recruitment in 2003, I had never heard of the term ‘succession planning’. In fact, I was naïve to how organisations even developed their employees having spent most of my young life at university then travelling the world and living in Australia. Looking back now, when I worked for the Olympic Committee in Sydney they talked about the next batch of volunteers that would eventually help run the venues (after we spent some time developing them to manage the registration processes) and make sure each venue ran like clockwork and was fully staffed for each event.This as I know it now was succession planning on a large scale.

I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented, dedicated, and driven leaders in social care. In fact, one of the first team managers I ever placed in a permanent position is now a director of social services – in the same council I initially placed him in. This is a great example of planning and retention that challenged him to stay on in that council. 

Yet to this day one of the questions I get asked most when working with a council is how do we plan for the future and aim to retain our brightest and most talented staff within the organisation?

The answer is not easy. No two organisations are the same and the pressure of social care means there is a burn out rate for staff far higher than many other professions. However, having seen first-hand how some organisations can retain and even grow their own, I wanted to put down in writing my overall thoughts of some of the key points I have witnessed that enables them to plan to succeed.

Start early

Unless forced to discuss it by someone suddenly leaving a post or a valued employee retiring early, there is a tendency to be reactive – and at crucial times this leaves gaps in the system where knowledge and understanding of the organisation is lost forever. Many managers bury their heads in the sand and are left with very few options to replace this person. Looking ahead 10 years may seem daunting but by forcing the issue and having one eye on the future means a potential plan is in place when that difficult time arrives.

Be honest and have a plan

Not everyone wants to be a chief executive. Some staff like to be content in their role and don’t want to lead. By having an open and honest conversation with staff about their goals and aspirations helps identify those who have a desire to become the next CEO or a champion within their service. Big businesses have no fear of putting staff who have this desire on a pedestal and engraining them into the culture and vision of the company at an early stage. While it may feel like this can isolate other staff, this honesty helps avoid putting the wrong people into the wrong roles. If staff aren’t getting the attention and input they crave then they may be quick to look elsewhere at other organisations that will do so.

Find an effective way for staff to learn from each other

‘Mentoring’ is a buzz word we take for granted nowadays, but we can underestimate the power of older and younger generations learning form one another and engraining the skills and mindset of how things are done effectively. Junior staff have great ideas and encouraging them to develop and grow these in line with the overall vision and ethos of the senior management team mitigates new people feeling unheard. As things develop that vision organically grows and the new people feel truly engrained in the new vision as they have helped steer it in the direction of travel as their career also flourishes. The saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ might be true but if the two are aligned – and both strategy and culture are intertwined – then people have both a focus and feeling that they are in the right place and that their voice will be heard. Having a purpose and sounding board for new ideas creates a team that is open, passionate, and willing to learn from one another.

Most importantly, be flexible.

Succession planning doesn’t need to be carved in stone and it can bend and flex to the needs of the organisation as it also changes. It’s an evolving conversation, not a legally binding contract. The SAS have a moto: ‘Train hard, fight easy’ and this can be said about planning. Make it something that is done regularly and when the time comes that someone leaves, there is always someone waiting in the wings to accept the new challenge as the development and training to get them ready has already been done. 

Simon Ray is a director at Hamptons Resourcing

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