Ensuring Success When Succession Planning

Ensuring Success When Succession Planning

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Culture & Organisational Effectiveness, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

With the new financial year about to begin, businesses will be confirming their budgets and determining where to spend and where to save. As we predicted at the start of the calendar year, talent is a top priority for businesses as they aim to ensure they have the right skills in the right roles and the right leaders at the helm. However, ongoing disruption in the market will continue to make this a challenging feat.

CEO turnover is at its highest levels in 20 years, with an average tenure of around 5 years. Coupled with the mass exodus of over 50s from the workforce, businesses are having to fill gaps more frequently and reassess what qualities they need at the senior level. Succession planning is a smart move for preventing productivity losses, negative impacts on the bottom line, and a never-ending cycle of turnover. Yet, only 35% of organisations have a formalised succession planning process for critical roles and the majority of leaders will fail shortly after ascending to a new position.

If you want to be seen as a successor or are appointed as the successor to a key role, what must you consider and how can you succeed? From a business perspective, what should you factor in when considering which individuals to appoint to ensure a smooth transition? Our Rialto Executive Career Coaches have compiled their top areas for consideration to help deliver an effective succession plan.


Effective Succession Planning: Business Considerations

Succession planning looks at the business through a long-term lens with the understanding that certain senior executives in business-critical positions may leave or retire at any point. You may know when that will be, or you may not. However, recognising the potential of individual talent who might take on the challenges of these roles, investing in their development in advance, and having a plan for the role they subsequently leave behind can ensure a smoother transition of power and minimise business disruption.

Appointing a successor from within the organisation holds several advantages including demonstrating to your staff that the business values its employees. There is also a smaller learning curve and shorter onboarding time when a ‘candidate’ is already familiar with the business, and therefore these moves can be made much quicker without having to advertise, extensively interview, and screen for the position. In succession planning, you will likely already have an eye on specific candidates who will have already proven themselves, making it much easier to act with agility when the organisation needs to pivot. An internal candidate will also already have relationships with the team and the business’s partners, making it easier to generate support and buy-in.

It is therefore understandable why this is a common practice at the senior level. Many CEOs will have been appointed to the top chair from the CFO/FD or COO role. Other C-Suite executives may have previously held VP, Director, or other senior-level titles in their department or a specific geography the business operates in. Others will have worked their way to the top after climbing the level from the junior level. There is no one clear path to any specific senior role, and a business would limit itself by only considering specific positions as ‘feeders’ for other higher-level roles. What is more valuable for ensuring success is that whoever you appoint will have the proper support from the business throughout the transition.

For those looking to grow and identify a succession pipeline, we would advise you to not only have a view of the long-term vision of the organisation but also an understanding of your wider market and competitors. Openness to diversity and links to any wider talent management practices in the organisation will also provide an advantage. Our experts advise you to consider the following:

  • What Worked Previously May Not Work Now: It is an easy trap to fall into when succession planning to appoint the most similar person to the executive who previously held the role. While keeping the status quo may be comfortable for the team during a transition of power, it may not be the most beneficial for the business. Succeeding a leader is an opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives, ways of working, or leadership styles. When considering who the right internal candidate for a leadership role might be, do not overlook those who do not resemble others who held the position historically. Instead, assess the current and future needs of the business, the challenges it faces, and priorities moving forward before assessing who may be well placed to navigate these factors.
  • Expect Push Back: As any HRD can attest, it is impossible to please every employee all the time and every decision will have its naysayers. When you promote an internal candidate to a key role, there will always be others who felt they deserved it more and who are vocal about that opinion. Others will be apprehensive about change or may doubt the appointed executive’s suitability, and these individuals may resist or challenge the authority of the new leader as a result. It would be unwise to expect that every transition will be smooth, and everyone will be excited and onboard. By anticipating these biases within the organisational politics, you will be much better placed for overcoming them. Ensure you are clearly and effectively communicating why a specific individual was chosen for the role, what characteristics they possess, and how this appointment serves the bigger picture for the business. Shut down any negative talk with clear points on why the decision was made and stand firm in your choice.
  • Communicate Carefully: Of course, how you communicate the succession of a senior role matters to more than just the naysayers. You need to consider how you position this appointment both internally and externally. How you communicate your points will change by audience. Internally, you will need to consider framing the announcement in a way that generates buy in and trust within the team and makes resistance of authority less likely. You will also need to consider that you are not just speaking directly to that new leader’s team, department, or direct reports. When communicating internally, consider how your message will be perceived by the rest of the leadership team and those in other teams or departments that will have to interact with or collaborate with this new leader. What would they want to know? What would get them excited to have this person in this role even though it has no direct impact on their own role? Externally, your mission is less about generating buy in than it is about inspiring confidence that the organisation is being led in the right direction. How you communicate this and what you might choose to focus on will vary. Your shareholders or other various stakeholders will be primarily focused on the safety of their investments or partnerships, while your customers will want to know what this means for your products or services. Ensure you are framing all messages in third party media, social media, the company website, emails, and beyond to hit the points your external audiences will be most concerned about.
  • Factor in Skills: Succession planning is about so much more than filling open seats or promoting your talent. It’s about ensuring you have the right skills in the right positions to pilot the business into the future. When succession planning, be sure to factor in what capabilities you will need on hand. Is there someone you can appoint who already has those skills? Should you consider ‘training up’ an otherwise ideal candidate to make sure they have a well-rounded skillset when they ascend to the role? These are all important considerations for ensuring agility and viability in the future of work.


Succession Planning- Preparing for your next step up

While companies look to build their talent pipeline of candidates who could step into the shoes of key roles, individual senior executives need to consider what this might mean for their own career trajectory and adequately prepare. In fact, this preparation can make or break one’s success in their new position. Research estimates that 50% to 70% of executives fail within 18 months of taking on a role, with about 3% of those executives “failing spectacularly” while nearly 50% “quietly struggle.”

Preparing for the next role you’d like to have while still in your current position can help you succeed once you ascend. In an ideal scenario, you would be notified well in advance that you are next in line to take over, train under the sitting executive, and have all the necessary support you need to move into the role. In the current business climate of ongoing disruption, the ideal scenario may not be the reality. You may not have the necessary onboarding you desire, and therefore need to take the reins of your career into your own hands.

Our Rialto Executive Career Coaches advise senior executives preparing to ascend to the next level to consider the following:

  • Know Yourself: Many of the executives who fail shortly after taking on a role do so because they are not adequately prepared for leadership. We can at times become so busy that we neglect to think about who we are, what type of leader we want to be, what legacy we want to leave. This can lead to misalignment in a role, imposter syndrome, and mistrust from key stakeholders among other issues. Who are you professionally? What do you stand for? What will you do, and what will you not do? What approach do you prefer to take? What do you want out of your career, and what is the best way of achieving that? Knowing who you are as a leader and carrying yourself appropriately will help position you as a potential candidate for succession and help others visualise what you would bring to the role.
  • Know Your Stakeholders: When considering how you want others to perceive you, you must also consider who it is you need to influence. Who are the key stakeholders both above you and below you that you need to gain the support of? Who are the key decision makers for all succession-related activity? What is your relationship to the individual you aspire to replace someday? Forging strong relationships now can prove beneficial later as you will ascend to the new role with an existing network of support and trust among your peers. Knowing how these various stakeholder groups are influenced will enable you to build that support by meeting people where they are. Learn all you can from these individuals and bring it into your new role to maximise the impact you are able to deliver.
  • Comparison Kills Confidence: Just as HRDs and the business need to avoid appointing carbon copies of past leaders, you need to be your own person in your new role. It can at times be easy to compare yourself to the executive before you or to your peers who might have also been considered for the role. Sometimes, it may not even be your internal voice making the comparison. If you are replacing someone who was much beloved, others may be very vocal about how you measure up. If you are replacing someone others were not as fond of, the bar for comparison may be set so low that it becomes easy to get away with giving less. At the end of the day, there was a reason why you were the person chosen for the job and you need to trust in that decision regardless of what your thoughts or your peers have to say about it. The only person you should be benchmarking against is yourself. Are you delivering on your promises? Are you living out your values? Are you making as big of an impact as you could be? No two leaders are the same. Focus on carving your own path and creating your own legacy instead of stepping into the shoes of your predecessor.
  • Be Prepared to Navigate Organisational Politics: The challenges of organisational politics will not just impact HRDs or the other decision makers involved with succession choices. Navigating hurt feelings, dissent, and doubt is an unspoken responsibility of taking on a senior role. There will likely be someone who thinks they could do the job better than you, and they may choose to be vocal about that belief. You may also have others who lack respect for your new authority, let your existing relationship impact what they believe they can get away with, or doubt your ability to deliver on objectives. These may seem like such small incidents, but they can make it difficult to adjust to the new role or cause unnecessary distraction. Do your best to keep your head above the noise and focus on the work at hand. Proving yourself in the role is the best way to shut down any naysayers and demonstrate that you were the right person for the job.
  • It’s More Than a Promotion: Succession is not simply a promotion and will require a fair amount of career development activity on your part. Most succession planning is focussed at a senior level where executives will be succeeding into C-suite or Board-level positions, which come with other various reputational and strategic considerations. Appointing new members of top leadership enables the organisation to pilot itself into the future with the right people at the helm. What might that future look like, and what role do you intend to play in it? Do you have the right skills? It may be that taking over a role through succession requires reskilling or upskilling on your part to satisfy the organisation’s needs. Are you prepared for the internal and external pressures of the role? Your new role may require you to be more visible in your industry or the wider market. Is your personal brand reflective of who you are professionally and how you would like to be perceived? Understanding that this is more than just taking the next step in your career and preparing adequately will help position you as a stronger candidate for a desirable role and help you succeed once you get there.

If you are a senior executive seeking to grow your career, reach the next level and make a game changing career move, our Executive Career Coaches can help. Get in touch with our team to discuss our bespoke executive transition and career coaching services.

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