As the saying goes, the only constant is change. No one is immune to this, especially within business. Ensuring that a business is ready for the inevitable change, which in this day and age, means being industry 4.0 ready, is crucial. And part of getting the business ready for this future state includes identifying who will be leading it. This is meant to be the role of succession planning. The logic is simple, to stay relevant within your industry you must prepare both your current and future leaders for the roles they perform. After all, it is a business’s people that determine its level of success, not the other way around.

Succession planning should apply to the whole organisation

One of the reasons most succession planning programs fail is because the focus is only on a handful of the top leadership positions. Quite simply, if you only look to address the quality of the pipeline for the top jobs at the final stage, the quality of the succession pipeline is going to be incredibly weak. Given the average age of most senior leaders is circa 50, trying to teach an old dog new tricks, when their tricks have got them one rung away from the top of the ladder is incredibly hard. Therefore, so many firms eventually must look outside the company for a new leader, as there was not a viable one internally.

Succession planning should be applied to the whole organisation. After all, if you are not moulding your leaders from the very beginning, then what is the point in moulding them at all? If an organisation can control from the very beginning all the employees that go from rank and file, in to supervisory positions, in to middle management, then senior management and finally leadership, the quality of the leadership pipeline within the organisation is going to be incredibly strong. It would be able to survive natural attrition and black swan events, ensuring an organisation thrives regardless of the circumstances.

Past performance and potential are not the same thing

Achievement at one level, does not guarantee success at the next level. This is a core reason why Gallup discovered that 9 out of 10 first time managers were not suitably equipped for their new role. The same thinking that leads to this challenge, permeates the wider promotional criteria of nearly every major organisation. Just because someone was good at sales, does not mean they can get other people to make more sales. Leadership capability is a completely different skill set to making sales calls. Likewise, being a middle manager and executing on the strategy of your boss to ensure your team deliver their objectives, is completely different from having to come up with a new strategy to be executed. For effective succession planning, promotion needs to be based upon a person’s ability to do the next job, not as a reward for doing the last job well.

Growth does not have to be vertical

Finally, its important to remember that growth does not have to be upwards, and in fact some of the best succession planning programs involve sideways moves. If you have a high potential leader who is say a technical expert in software. They can go all the way up the ladder to become chief technology officer in theory. But do you know what would make them a better CTO when the time comes? Having a broader skill set and understanding of the business. Taking that superstar technical person and having them spend 18 months working in the marketing or sales team would do significantly more for them, than promoting them to manage more software people. A CTO that understands buying habits from customers, the challenges of the salespeople selling it and how the company markets it, would be much more valuable to the organisation.