Succession planning always has and always will be an essential element of any organisation which wishes to remain viable. We will always need HR directors, finance experts, sales and marketing managers and those who excel in client relationships.

Rather than constantly looking for new ways to re-invent the wheel, what we need to address is not how to identify and retain talent, but how to develop people so that they’re agile enough to deal with constant change without disruption.

This is not rocket science. It’s about ensuring there are ongoing conversations with people to identify what they’re doing well, what challenges they are facing and what support they need in order to perform their role effectively in an ever-changing environment. Not just a business environment, but in a society which is constantly changing politically, culturally and technologically.

It has never not been the case that the talent required within an organisation are those who will deliver the results of the business plan. The way we work has and always will change constantly – from sending a messenger with a note written with quill pen and ink, to stamping an envelope and it arriving the next day, to faxing urgent requests, to emails written on computers the size of a small garden shed, to instantly messaging a colleague 10,000 miles away from our phones while on our morning commute.

Stephen Hawking said, “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Intelligent succession planning is the ability to recognise that change is constant and to equip people with the tools they need to deal with it. New roles may be created and old roles may be lost; IT managers didn’t exist 50 years ago, and the typewriter maintenance department doesn’t exist now. Savvy organisations will keep abreast of global developments and ensure that the 100 people who repaired typewriters are given the skills they need to repair malfunctioning computers should they choose to do so.

The HR director and the CEO of a forward-thinking organisation will work closely together to produce agile training and development strategies that don’t make their five-year plans redundant as soon as a new piece of technology becomes commonplace. They will establish training programmes for their workforce that not only develop them within their roles, but equip them for the possibility that these roles will change and help them to refine their skills accordingly.

This isn’t a 100% foolproof way of ensuring those who have been earmarked for progression with stay within the organisation; personal circumstances will always be subject to change, and there may always be a more attractive offer on the table for someone with promise.

But focusing on the fact that change WILL happen, rather than constantly playing catch-up and scrabbling to fill essential roles, will go a long way to ensuring a succession of talented people who are loyal to the organisation.

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