Organisations must communicate future plans to key staff to stop them becoming disillusioned or poached by headhunters.
The associate director of the Institute for Employment Studies warned last week that if firms are not more proactive in this area then they will lose the war for talent.
Wendy Hirsh said, “They have to actively involve employees in planning their futures. Succession planning cannot be done by one person, nor can potential successors be left unaware of their value and future role.”
Hirsh, who is author of a IES report into succession planning, said, “It is better to plan for a collection of similar jobs than to try and identify specific successors for every single post.”
She said suitable successors will only get support for their development if there is a measure of agreement about who is being developed and for what.
Senior management needs to share and talk through its perceptions of possible successors and investigate evidence of their strengths and weaknesses.
HR director of ScottishPower Paul Pagliari said HR professionals have to focus on flexible succession planning because it supports business goals.
He said initiatives aimed at achieving this at ScottishPower include a scheme to manage the careers of the company’s top 100 managers, ensuring a supply of high-calibre leaders.
He said, “This means we actively manage their development in line with business needs. We have the right people in the right positions at the right time.”
The research, Succession Planning Demystified, was commissioned by the IES Research Club, which comprises 26 major UK firms, including Marks & Spencer, Scottish Executive and Rolls-Royce.
Companies which took part in the research are trying to be more objective with promotion decisions, replacing the “old boy” succession approach.
By Richard Staines