Far Reaching Succession Planning is Crucial to Building Resilient Businesses

Employment & Skills | Reports

By Oliver Barber, Director of EMEA, Docebo

With UK CEOs in their jobs for just 4.8 years on average (the highest turnover rate globally after Brazil, Russia and India), chopping and changing at senior executive level is frequent in British companies.

While many owner-managed businesses can point to more stability, none are immune to unexpectedly losing people from strategic positions.

Succession planning, however, is often thought the preserve of companies with storied leaders with decades of experience.

Even when it is embedded in company governance and planning, rarely does succession planning address the corresponding reshuffles that happen down the chain when – as often happens – one of the (senior) rank and file takes the vacated spot.

We all have enough experience to appreciate that a number of people changing roles at the same time has ramifications for the business and needs to be managed effectively.

Accelerating the Pace of Change

With the pace of corporate change only set to quicken, it is critical for businesses to build a resilient, adaptable organisation where employees from top to bottom can rapidly step up into higher roles, readily equipped with the skills needed. But how can businesses achieve this flexibility?

Four key steps can prepare a business for shifts throughout the organisation when senior management changes:

  1. Know your Team: Keep near real-time records of employee capabilities, skills and progress. This ensures continuous preparedness as to who is able to step up to a more demanding role and who requires more training to get there.

Doing so will identify specific gaps in particular departments and highlight the need for increased training or an additional hire to mitigate risks. Say, for example, that the finance director has a highly capable deputy who spends significant time helping the accounts team with routine tasks. If that director is suddenly elevated to managing director, the easy solution is to reward the capable, qualified and trusted employee with promotion, but it leaves a gaping hole that may not be filled overnight.

The more businesses understand the full strengths and weaknesses across their organisation, on a continuous basis, the better they can prepare for change and key people moving up or moving on.

  1. Foster Belief: Celebrate internal moves and promotions with as much gusto as external hires. We are all good at introducing new people and trying to smooth over existing employees suspicions with notes of excitement about a new hire’s impressive list of skills and accomplishments. However, promotion of internal employees often, at best, gets a muted round of applause in the monthly all hands meeting.

Instead, business leaders need to ensure that internal moves are well communicated and celebrated in internal memos, but also extend into external communications where appropriate. Promotions and lateral moves should be tied to the business mission – how has the employee in question furthered that mission to date and how will they do so in their new role?

You need to find ways to inspire people across the organisation to believe that when they need to shoulder more responsibility, they have the skills and the support to do so.

  1. Embed Transparency: It is no longer possible to have a small cadre of informed leaders who keep business information at arm’s length from the rest of the company. It certainly doesn’t help during organisational change. Business leaders need to find ways to democratise access to information beyond what absolutely has to be confidential. This can help prevent steep learning curves and nasty surprises for employees who find themselves elevated to fill vacated roles.

Transparency is not just about sharing more, however, it’s about communicating in ways that employees are most used to. Building systems that are mobile-first and collaborative is a key component, given that many employees have grown up with smartphones and social media. While businesses need leaders, they also need to create a culture of collaboration and accessibility to information that will empower the budding stars.

  1. Embrace Automation: Automation is too often distrusted as being a byword for headcount reduction. For many business leaders, their company is their life’s work and the people within it really matter to them. That distrust, however, can hinder needed innovation that will add more resilience into the business, increase efficiency and improve every individual’s working day and even career prospects.

A key example is how businesses can build artificial intelligence into learning and development programmes. Imagine being able to rely on automation to identify where your company lacks certain skills that could create a risk should a senior leader leave. It would match the ideal candidate for training on that specific area and then identify all of the relevant available online course content that can get them to the right competency level.

This is just one example of how automation will reduce businesses’ vulnerability to big departures or structural changes. There are countless other emerging if leaders can keep an open mind.

All leadership teams know that change is inevitable and most are now awake to the idea that it is continual, not a black swan event. In this context, it is important to think about the impact across the entire company and create a flexible architecture that enables the business to not just cope, but to thrive.

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