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Avoid these traps and get succession planning right in 2022

Kiddy & Partners

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With the world having been turned upside down and most business strategies ripped up and redrawn, leaders are seeking clarity. For HR and Talent practitioners, there’s an urgent need to provide leaders with clarity on one fundamental question: How do I lead now for the future?

Without clarity on this, many businesses won’t succeed. Organisations need to pause and reflect on what has changed since the pandemic in order to identify how they and their leaders need to adapt, and the question HR and Talent practitioners must ask themselves is: do we know what type of leaders and leadership capabilities we need to take us into our tomorrow? If you gain clarity on anything in the next quarter, make it this.

Effects of the pandemic

The pandemic has forever altered how organisations around the world operate. It has left organisations and leaders grappling with articulating the reality and trying to find a clear way forward. At this point, pausing to reflect on what has changed and how to move forward is critical. How have demands and expectations of leaders changed? Do leaders need different mindsets and skillsets to deal with the challenges of the new normal? How must you manage your talent pipeline?

With so many clients revisiting their succession plans currently, in this blog I’m going to offer some insights into where I’ve seen organisations getting it right over my last 30 years of working in this area. To cut to the chase, I firmly believe that data, about your people and your future business, needs to drive all your succession activity. 

One thing I know from my work at Kiddy is that not many organisations feel they get it right – even those seen by their peers as being best in class. Often succession planning is put into the “too hard to do properly” category or it becomes a tick box exercise – which I think this is even more the case in the current Covid climate where it’s not only our futures that look uncertain but, for many organisations, our present is equally unclear. I have been in senior talent reviews of global PLCs where the CEO and Chair have giggled when they see who is slated for the most critical roles in the business – clearly a stress inducing time for the HRD! Getting it right isn’t easy, but it is critical for the future of the business and the credibility of HR. 

Part of the problem is that there isn’t a standard template for how to do it – yes, many organisations will run talent boards and have talent pools etc, but they all do it in different ways. There is little agreement about what flow rates from one level of talent pool to the next, what ratio should be designated as talent (in one global insurer I worked with it was mandated that 5% of every level had to be high potential). We’re talking to a major organisation in the oil and gas sector who are finding they’re appointing leaders in their early 30’s into EVP roles – who aren’t yet ready for the move – because they hadn’t done enough forecasting and been aware of the external talent shortage. So, we work with our clients to help them understand their attrition rates at different levels through, for example, retirements and use this to forecast their needs within the current organisation structure.

Future-proof succession planning

The most difficult part of succession planning is the future-oriented element; what kind of leader are you going to need for your tomorrow? In March 2020, at the start of the first UK Covid lockdown, there was significant discussion about how the changes in working practices would render traditional command and control leadership unviable in the future; organisations were demanding humility in leadership and different skills they hadn’t previously sought in their leaders. From what I see, many leaders are returning to old habits. But the bigger question is what do you need – what will the organisation look like; how do you know what roles you’re likely to have in five years? This is where the link to the business strategy comes to the fore and the HR community needs to be able to engage with the commercial challenges the business will be facing. When I started working in this arena most organisations still tried to write future-focused org charts that they could line leaders up against, but most clients have progressed to the point where they are working to identify the broad groups of skills that will be needed. This allows them to have a holistic view of what is needed. 

So, having considered the data you need on demand side of the succession equation, the next question is about supply – who do you have currently, how will that change in the short-term and what is the most effective way of ensuring we have the capability we’re likely to need in five years’ time? As a business psychologist one of the ways I can really add value to a client is through providing clarity on the supply side of succession, i.e. who have you got, how good are they, how good might they be in the future, and what do those leaders want from their careers? We use a variety of tools and techniques to really stretch leaders to see what they may be capable of, balancing this with a person-centred approach of understanding personal goals and drivers. 

This enables us to provide individual leaders with detailed feedback on how they can realise their goals, focus them on the challenge ahead and engage them in their journey. For our clients we provide detailed group reporting showing how their leaders match the needs of their organisation’s tomorrow and what steps they must take to prepare their leaders for those challenges.

So, if you want to gain greater confidence and clarity in your succession planning:

  • Take the time to understand the demand – what does your business need now, in the medium term (flow rates etc) and what does the business strategy say will be needed in broad terms in the future
  • Use data, not opinions, to drive your understanding of the supply side. Structured, in-depth assessments will give you the most robust, predictive data to use
  • Map your supply against your demand
  • Be prepared to face up to the gaps, every business has them
  • Invest your development spend in ways to close those longer-term gaps and get your leaders ready for your tomorrow

At Kiddy, we have a long heritage of taking a pragmatic, actionable approach to assessing leaders and accelerating their development, as well as helping clients understand and address their succession challenges. Get in touch to find out how we can help.

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