Succession Planning


In this week when the resignation of the Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson has put the issue of succession on front pages  it is perhaps timely to reflect on succession plans.

How do you approach succession planning in your enterprise? Having personally experienced a spectrum of approaches from a highly structured process embedded in the core of the human resources processes (Category 1) to programmes for individuals identifies as future leaders (Category 2) to adhoc / negligible planning (Category 3), I am now firmly convinced that a succession planning is a key element of effective Corporate Governance.  Sadly I have witnessed too closely, loose-loose situations where high expenditure on Headhunters (and recruiting firms for lower level appointments) was coupled with undeveloped internal talent, sub-optimum employee engagement and too high unmanaged staff attrition.

Where would you place your enterprise on the following matrix?

Make v Buy

A common theme running through the first two categories was a strong commitment (core value) to developing people at all levels. Indeed individuals’ annual appraisals included specific assessment of contribution to developing people.  Furthermore in some of these organisations, leaders at all levels committed material time to teaching subsequent generations of leaders – putting into practice the Leaders Teaching Leaders philosophy espoused by the likes of Noel Tichy ). In the third category not only were there indications of missed discretionary effort and people leaving for more interesting careers elsewhere, there was also much higher pressure on salaries:

  • Individuals recruited externally were in practice “paid a premium to move” and overtime this created internal payroll cost “inflation”
  • Staff took a much shorter-term perspective on remuneration – focusing on current salary and bonus rather than considering career earning potential.


Steps you can take now:


1. Identify where your key people risks are and develop contingency plans for what you will do if a key person leaves or becomes sick or otherwise unable to continue contributing to your enterprise.

2. Consider with your colleagues:

  1. Whether you will have a strategy of “buying in” talent when you need it or whether your objective is to “grow your own”?
  2. if your objective is to “grow your own” how are you going to do it so that you have the optimum pipeline of successors to your key people? You might start by assessing people on the basis of the current performance and future potential.perf v potential
  3. What tactics will you adopt? In a UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development paper “Talent Wave: Harness the Energy of the Talent Wave”  Dave Clutterbuck identified 3 approaches:

Clutterbuck circles

  • Emergent: The aim is less to fit employees into a grand plan than to channel their energies and ambitions – encouraging development of “deep capabilities” and trusting that the creative ferment will deliver the right person at the right time most of the time.
  • Co-evolutionary: When talented people adjust their ambitions and develop new skills in line with their observations of opportunities,  they stimulate change, for the business as well as themselves – if they’re allowed to.
  • Self-organising: If people are genuinely talented they will find their own ways to respond opportunities all they need is information and support increasingly talent turns out to be invested not individuals that in networks within the business

I strongly commend the co-evolutionary approach – provided that your organisational values include the development of your people. (If they don’t, a forthright consideration of incentives would be a prudent initial step).  Institutionalising the “Leaders Teaching Leaders” mechanisms articulated in the earlier Noel Tichy video would provide you with a platform for developing both your people and the resilience of your enterprise – a real win-win! As you consider the content of such a Leaders Teaching Leaders Programme an Excellence Audit TM  would help you develop an agenda that addresses the gap between current performance and the capabilities needed to achieve your enterprise ambitions. It is based on the insights into excellent enterprises that Tom Peters and his Company have continued to develop since the original McKinsey Research and the In Search of Excellence book was written with Rob Waterman in the 1980s.

Call to Action

Contact Huw Morris (+44 1483 604873 (office) +44 7799 060095 (mobile) to explore options for implementing a programme to improve your succession planning.



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