Succession planning
19 January 2017

Why succession planning matters (and why so many companies get it wrong)


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Employee engagement


Every business knows the seriousness of a faulty sales pipeline.

There’s little point investing time and money in securing customers at the start, only to neglect them further through the process before the sale has been made and before they have realised their full potential.

Ironically, most businesses fail to realise that the same pipeline process within the company – this time with their own personnel – needs to be equally robust.

There’s little point investing time and money in securing employees through recruitment, only to neglect them further through the process before they have risen in the company and before they have realised their true potential for the business.

While over half of businesses believe they have a talent pipeline in place, many overlook one thing …. the pipeline is probably leaking.

When things are going well and the business is functioning successfully on a day to day basis, it’s easy to assume that things will continue as they have been. Succession planning, talent management and moving employees along a talent pipeline can seem like a daunting and complicated task and, when things are running smoothly, the motivation to do so is often lacking.

However, to ensure that continued smooth running, all companies – whether big or small – need to identify and grow talent to fill their business-critical positions in the future. The implementation of a structured process for doing this is essential.

We can all appreciate that recruiting and training staff is an expensive and time intensive process, but this effort is wasted if those staff gradually decrease in efficiency and enthusiasm, feel unrewarded and unhappy in their role, and as a result leave the company.

Investing in your staff on a regular and consistent basis to make sure their career path aligns with your own corporate goals makes good business sense, yet many businesses neglect it because it feels too overwhelming to organise.

Supporting staff from the bottom up is the best – and most cost-effective way to ensure your company continues to function successfully in the future.

So, how can companies make sure their succession planning is robust enough and encourage the continuous movement of employees through the ranks?

Know Your Talent Pool

talent poolIt sounds obvious, but knowing what talent and skillsets you already have within your company is the first step to recognising how to move those employees along the right path.

All organisations need leaders and managers with a range of experience, so it makes sense to have an overview of who is proficient in which areas, even if those skills and qualifications don’t pertain to the current job role that individual is performing.

Maintaining a database of employees’ skills, training and track record is the only way to confidently know where the assets within your company lie and it makes your life easier if you have access to the right resources to achieve this.

Using appropriate HR software is the most efficient way to do this and can enhance visibility of your talent pool through employee skills and qualifications, making it easy to keep track of where your personnel are on their career path and where they need to go next.

Identify Leaks Before They Happen

Water filled rowboatIn order to know that you have suitable people in place to step into key roles when they are needed, you need to be confident that your staff aren’t planning to leave the company before that happens.

By tracking and monitoring the lifecycle of every employee who joins or leaves your organisation, you may find there are obvious leaks in your pipeline where staff feel inclined to move on.

Keeping track of this information, and taking the time to identify potential key bumps in the road ahead, will give you the ability to pre-empt the loss of talent you have invested in.

Times of transitioning between roles, departmental re-organisation or personal reasons like starting a family may turn out to be points where employees need increased support – whether that be encouragement, rewards, flexible working or just recognition of a job well done.

Identifying the possibility of these leaks before they happen will save you both time and money in the long run.

Listen to Employees

It sounds like another obvious one, but listening to employees is one of the simplest – and under-utilised – ways of understanding what is happening within your company and how your succession planning can react to that.

Study after study shows that employees want their voices heard and this not only helps improve engagement and retention, but also gives you a clearer idea of where any issues within the company lie.

listen to staffSometimes, a conversation at mid-year or end-of-year just is not enough, there needs to be conversations and other ways of communicating in between. 45% of HR leaders do not think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for employee’s work, so the challenge becomes keeping track of who you need so speak to and when.

Taking the time to talk to staff, on a monthly or even weekly basis, is proving to be more effective for many companies than relying solely on an annual review, at which point it may be too late to recapture the enthusiasm and loyalty of an individual.

More regular feedback sessions give both sides the opportunity to communicate more freely and move employees along the talent pipeline.

Well managed HR systems are vital to ensure individuals aren’t lost in the system and feel validated, heard and developed appropriately. You could consider using software to make use of online evaluation and impact questionnaires to measure the success of your talent management programme in a more structured way.

Make Maintaining the Pipeline Easy

In a recent survey, 92% of respondents felt it was risky not to have a succession plan for key employees, yet only 25% of the companies feel they have identified adequate successor candidates for those positions, and less than half have a formal process for developing such candidates.

Taking time to implement a formal succession plan that’s up to date can feel overwhelming on top of an already packed To-Do list, so making the process easy and straightforward is essential if you want it to actually get done.

maintain pipelineCalling on technology to do the organisation for you will make things much easier, and the right software allows you to effectively plan, administer and track your talent management, reducing the administrative burden, streamlining processes and monitoring its overall effectiveness.

Using online course and event management can make developing the talent in your pipeline simpler and more reliable. It can also help with automating workflow, notification and correspondence generation as well as keeping on top of course bookings and qualification renewal which frees HR departments up to focus on other tasks.

Ensuring you have a user friendly but structured process in place, is essential to make succession planning feel like less of a chore. It also gives the process less of a ‘hit or miss’ feel about it.

Ironically, taking control of your succession planning and making sure you have the processes in place to secure the future smooth running of the business is best done before you need it. It makes more sense to prevent the loss of valuable talent rather than trying to plug the hole after the leak has occurred.

The right software and support can help you keep track of your talent pipeline without it feeling like an overwhelming task.

It may not be something you often think about when things are going well, but when the time comes and you need the right employee to move up the ranks and fill a critical role, you’ll be very glad you did.

Statistics’ Sources:

Dallas Nevins, TalentQuest, “5 Interesting Statistics About Succession Planning,” 14 November 2013,

Stanford Graduate School of Business, “2014 Succession Planning and Talent Development Survey,” 6 March 2014, Stanford Graduate School of Business