IAN FERGUSON: Succession planning is vital to lasting success


Ian Ferguson

Whether you are a small family business or a large corporation, a business owner or a human resources manager, effective retirement and succession planning is vital for your company’s continuing success. Far too often we leave these matters to chance and blame the politics, and other biases, for our failure to identify emerging leaders who can assume key roles in the companies we serve.

This column today focuses on strategies for successful succession. Here are some suggestions:

Start early

One of the most common problems is people not giving succession planning the time it deserves early enough. Unless forced to discuss it by an employee approaching retirement, many managers bury their heads in the sand, thus missing the opportunity to plan for a smooth transition well enough in advance. This can lead to intense pressure later on. Start thinking about it as early as possible. This is typically ten years ahead of an expected retirement within your sector or a specific post.

Harness your senior workers’ expertise

Think about how senior workers can pass on their skills and expertise so that it does not leave your company when they do. If you are considering a business leader or senior manager’s succession, could they work alongside their successor for six to 12 months, then continue part-time in a mentor-style capacity to support key decisions as and when required? Be sure to allow enough time for them to pass on their contacts, business and client insight, processes and tips, and to help smooth over any issues while they are still around. Could older workers at any level of the business help with inducting and training new staff? Whether the focus is on using equipment or customer service, their experience and insight can be invaluable, so do not waste it.

Develop your deputies

Do not assume succession is a simple matter of a deputy stepping up to a leadership position when a leader retires. Deputies can sometimes be more used to working in the wake of their leader, and have not had enough opportunity to be challenged in a leadership role before actually stepping up to the position permanently. So invest in their learning, development and leadership training before that leader retires, and give them the opportunity to make key decisions - coached by their leader if necessary.

Find an effective way for generations to learn from each other

From younger workers training older colleagues in using technology and social media, to innovative approaches such as reverse mentoring, there are plenty of ways older workers can develop further to sharpen their talents and keep their skills fresh.

Senior workers need the humility to accept that younger, less experienced colleagues may be able to see a faster, better way of doing something. It is not just about technology. From ideas generation to new approaches for customer service, older workers should embrace the fact that you are never too old to learn. Be prepared to experiment. Try new approaches and then evaluate how they worked, so both sides can learn from the experience. It will be positive.

Be flexible

Your succession plan does not have to be carved in stone; it is an evolving conversation, not a binding contract. Update it regularly as circumstances change. Both the business and the individual will need the flexibility to adapt to the unexpected, but doing this within a clear strategy is always more effective.

• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@coralwave.com.


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