Management continuity: it’s all about succession planning

Written by Lyndon Wingrove on 30 April 2015

The war on talent is raging, particularly when it comes to finding and retaining, highly effective leaders. In a recent research piece by Saba titled, The Global Workforce Leadership Survey, 46 per cent said leadership was the hardest skill to find in employees and only 36 per cent listed leadership as a strength within their organisation. Another survey by Korn Ferry found that only half the business leaders they surveyed felt confident that their company knew which candidates they should be investing in as future leaders and only half believed they had identified those who are ready for specific roles.

But why is leadership talent supposedly in such short supply? Part of it could be down to the fact that there are simply not enough great leaders for every position that requires them but equally, many organisations put nowhere near enough effort into making sure they have employees ready to replace the leaders they do have when those individuals leave the business.

Nurturing talent

Another potential reason for this drought of potential leaders could be a lack of confidence in those earlier on in their career. A recent survey by recruiters Hays found that 20 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds felt unconfident about their career prospects, displaying significantly lower confidence levels than any other age group. This means those people at the start of their careers are naturally less likely to see themselves as future leaders.

But robust succession planning can go some way to boosting that confidence. Seeking out high-potential employees early on in their career and providing them with the learning and experiences that will bring out that potential can give those individuals the confidence and drive to feel like they could be leaders. This is also a highly effective way for organisations to find the future leaders of their business without having to look outside.

Of course, this is a long-term plan rather than a quick fix but the benefit of doing this is that you end up with highly engaged employees who have a sense of purpose and loyalty to the business, not to mention extensive knowledge of its culture and processes as they rise to the top. 

Proactive beats reactive

When it comes to achieving continuity in management and leadership, what you want to avoid is being forced into a situation where you are having to be completely reactive, i.e. having a manager or leader suddenly leave the business and not having anyone who could replace them. To clarify: more than simply having a person willing to take their on the vacancy, what you need is a replacement who is ready and able to hit the ground running and perform in that role, thus minimising any disruption to the business caused by a temporary dip in productivity.

But what you also need is somebody able to take on that first person’s role when they move on, so you can start to see the need for a robust talent mapping strategy. It is vital to know where the talent sits within your business, what those individuals are contributing and who will replace them as they inevitably move up through (or out of) the organisation. If you can get all of that mapped out, you will save a great deal of time, effort and money in the event that you do need to move people around.

Given the speed at which businesses move and change, it’s unlikely that succession planning happening as an activity once a year is going to be fit for purpose. If succession planning is truly going to be impactful then it needs to be treated with the same level of attention and rigour as you would an operational or strategic review. Succession planning can be a strategic tool but it needs to be a day-to-day, month-to-month activity.

Getting the balance right

It goes without saying that there is value in a certain amount of attrition. In fact, it’s essential – you need fresh perspectives and ideas at the top of the business, just as you do the bottom. But it is equally important to ensure you allow internal employees to rise into leadership positions. Not only does this provide a better balance within the leadership team but it also sends a very positive message to people throughout the business.

The key, then, is not to focus solely on succession planning but to invest enough time and effort in it that you won’t always have to rely on the external candidate market in order to fill positions that – often unexpectedly – become available.


Succession planning is something all businesses need to be thinking about, particularly during this time when leadership talent is in such short supply and it is becoming very much a candidate’s job market. Putting the ground work in early on will not only save time and money in the long run but will also ensure productivity at management and leadership level remains consistent, even during turbulent, high-turnover times. The long-term impact of succession planning – or, more critically, not doing it – should never be underestimated.

Lyndon Wingrove is director of capabilities and consulting at Thales L&D []


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