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Your Majesty, Mummy, I’m getting started at last! The Ups and Downs of Handing over to a Successor

It looks as though Buckingham Palace is planning for Prince Charles to take over many of The Queen’s duties as she reaches her more senior years. Public opinion for a gradual handover seems finally to be in his favour. Charles will be less involved with his causes and focus more on monarchical duties, whilst The Queen will continue to speak with the Prime Minister, consider political matters and give audiences at least for the next few years.

This turn of events got us thinking about the complexities of succession planning. Whilst there might be a few hiccoughs with the Royal handover, we probably won’t hear about many of them; any issues will be probably be kept and dealt with in the family. But in a business situation, all sorts of questions can arise that need to be dealt with.

Succession planning is essential to ensure that the right people are in place to allow the organisation to develop and flourish. This isn’t just confined to plans for the replacement of senior people. It also applies to more junior roles. If you start to develop people at all levels you’ll have a pool of home-grown talent when the time comes.

It takes time to get succession planning right. If you don’t give people the chance to develop, it can go horribly wrong. The British Army in the First World War suddenly had to expand from around 120,000 men to over a million. Colonels in charge of single battalions found themselves suddenly promoted to brigadiers in charge of whole brigades. With mobile communications in their infancy, these newly promoted officers tended to spend much time amongst their men (instead of relying on their juniors for some of that),only to be separated from the command structure and unable to make the good operational decisions their new job required. Little time was spent on a handover, so they naturally spent time (and lives) learning what to do. As history has shown, it’s not the most effective way to do things and had appalling consequences in many cases.

The starting point for successful succession planning is to look at the future objectives of the organisation and work back from that. Work out what kind of employees you will need to deliver on those objectives. Identify the roles and determine the expertise, skills and competencies required.

Assess who you already have within the business who may fit the bill (or has the potential to learn the relevant skills). Analyse the skills and experience gaps and think about what development activities need to take place to allow employees to gain the skills to step up to the mark. Providing development opportunities now is key to the success of your plan in the future. For example:

  • give additional responsibilities to develop new skills;
  • allow employees to work shadow people in senior roles;
  • second employees on to a project to allow experience of working at a different or higher level;
  • encourage them to work with other staff to develop knowledge in different areas of the organisation;
  • ensure employees have the opportunity to attend events outside the organisation, such as conferences.

Provide relevant training for employees to prepare them for progression and expand their knowledge and skill set. Review progress, carry out regular appraisals and give performance feedback.

As well as home grown talent you should also consider external recruitment which brings in fresh blood and new ideas.

Once you've got your succession plan in place keep it up-to-date and amend it as needed. It’s likely that goals will alter over time and you will need to revisit and re-evaluate the available talent pool, taking into account the changes in your organisational objectives.

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