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  • Publish Date: Posted about 3 years ago
  • Author: Michael Ball

I am often asked, “what is the one thing that companies can do to improve their recruitment process?” And whilst my answer may sometimes vary depending on an organisation’s particular circumstances, there is one thing which stands out that every company no matter of their size, position within the marketplace or industry sector should give real focus to if they want to ensure greater success from their recruitment and retention efforts: succession planning.

When it comes to succession planning, it is often assumed that this primarily relates to the top job – the passing of the crown so to speak. But effective succession planning should run right throughout an organisation embracing leadership roles, management positions and ensuring that business critical skills are not lost from any area of the operation should an individual move on from the company.

There are numerous scenarios which can occur where it is vital that organisations have one eye on the future; retirement being one of the most obvious and in many ways most straightforward to plan for. However, the majority of situations that can arise will potentially do so with very little notice – a period of absence due to maternity or paternity leave, caring responsibilities, illness or staff moving onto new roles – and companies all too often find themselves in a position where they need to react.

There may be some operations, such as family-run businesses, where the succession routes may appear to be a little easier to navigate; however, these businesses are not without their challenges, should the natural successor harbour career ambitions of a different kind or the skills which are required for the next phase of development need to be sourced externally.

A key factor is recognising that the ‘job for life’ culture is not something which either employers or employees can rely upon. Unless, for example, you are talking about a shareholder in a business, there is very little by way of guarantees that a business owner can give an employee in relation to their long-term job security. Similarly, employers will need to wrestle with their own lack of certainty surrounding talented individuals potentially looking elsewhere for new opportunities to further their careers.

Planning an effective succession strategy can be a balancing act when it comes to weighing up the more immediate needs for the business with potential requirements for the future. However, by affording the matter more care and attention over a longer period of time - with the benefit of considering and reconsidering possible paths in light of changes to business operations - will result in a much more considered outcome than one where necessity and urgency have taken precedence.

Starting sensible conversations early will provide businesses with the opportunity to plan for a smooth transition well enough in advance of even the most out-of-the-blue departures. And it must be stressed that succession planning is not about ‘preventing’ people from leaving – it is about establishing and developing a culture which enables effective processes to deal with people leaving to put in place.

It is important to open channels for constructive conversations where both sides can feel they can be honest about what their career ambitions are and how and when they want to achieve these and what the goals and aspirations are of the business which could provide the opportunities for those to be realised. Nothing should be assumed – and whilst the lack of a completely clear path may cause unease for ambitious employees, it is vital not to over-promise and under-deliver in an attempt to secure their commitment to the organisation.

Taking a flexible approach is key; it may not be about finding that one individual that will step into another’s shoes – for example establishing a new divisional structure may provide opportunities to support talented employees’ career ambitions whilst strengthening the team at a senior level to take the business forward.And by ensuring that the right training and development programmes are in place, this will enable likely successors to harness skills and expertise and to foster their leadership skills in readiness for the future.

A succession plan should be flexible and ever-evolving, subject to ongoing discussions, revisits and adaptions as situations and circumstances change. And change is inevitable as factors from both within and outside a business influence its trajectory, however that change will be far easier to manage with a more successful outcome where there is a clear strategy firmly in place.


Sharp Consultancy specialises in the recruitment and executive search of finance and accountancy professionals.  With offices in Leeds and Sheffield our highly experienced team of consultants recruit for temporary, interim and permanent roles across the full spectrum of positions throughout Yorkshire and beyond. CONTACT US today and speak to a member of our team about your recruitment needs or next career move.