What are your succession planning strategies if a key leader departs?

By Robert Half 7 August 2019

If a senior leader in your business suddenly resigns or unexpectedly departs your organisation, do you have succession planning strategies in place to deal with the vacancy?

In every business, there will always be leaders who decide to move on. This could be as a result of another job opportunity, moving to a different department, or retirement. In some cases (although hopefully rare), C-suite level leaders may be forced to resign.

Regardless of the reason, a key senior management departing can leave an important gap to fill, and to fill urgently. Having a clear succession plan before this happens can ensure you have someone suitable to take their place. This enables your business to continue operating effectively and successfully.

This article explains why it’s important to have a succession plan for leadership roles, and some succession planning strategies that you can implement to get started.

3 reasons you need a succession plan for senior-level roles

If you don’t already have a succession plan in place, here are some reasons for why a succession plan is vital for senior-level employees in your business:

1. Fill vacancies quickly

Recruiting for any role takes time, but for a senior figure who is in a position of power, where a specific skillset or level of experience is required, recruitment can take far longer. Succession planning means you have aspiring leaders who are ready to take on leadership roles as soon as they become available. Without a succession plan, you may be left with gaps, or you may rush into making a recruitment decision (which may result in hiring someone unsuitable).

2. Create stability

Succession planning for senior positions ensures your business remains stable, even during challenging times. When there is no succession plan in place, this can cause anxiety among key stakeholders. For instance, employees may feel confused and it can create uncertainty with your investors.

3. Avoid other adverse effects

When a senior role is left unfilled for too long, it can cause adverse effects on your business. Important business decisions and strategies may be delayed. Teams may struggle with a lack of direction, which can have a knock-on effect on productivity and business performance.

8 succession planning strategies for senior management

You can’t always prevent senior managers from leaving, but you can plan for it.

Implement these succession planning strategies, so your business can carry on, with minimal disruption:

1. Identify roles

Consider which roles in the business could benefit from having a succession plan in place, particularly those where there is a shortage of talent or skills gap.

2. Define skills

Map out the skills and experiences that will be required to undertake these top-level roles. Keep in mind that the skills needed now may differ in the future when a vacancy arises.

3. Identify internal talent

Recognise talented and motivated employees who have the potential to take on more responsibility and become effective leaders in the business. According to the Robert Half CEO Tracker, 56% of CEOs were promoted internally into their position.*

4. Provide development opportunities

Help candidates become your future leaders. Don’t wait until they are required to step up - Support them and invest in their career development now. Consider providing regular training and upskilling opportunities. Mentoring with existing leaders can also mean that skills and experiences that have been learnt over the years can be passed on and retained in the business, rather than being lost when leaders leave.

5. Research external leaders

If you don’t have suitable employees internally that can fill your leadership roles, be prepared to look for candidates outside the company. Put a clear recruitment strategy in place and consider creating a database of prospective candidates which you can reach out to if any senior roles become available. Working with a recruitment agency can also ease the burden of the hiring process.

6. Implement your plan effectively

For your succession plan to be a success, you must have the support of all your leaders. Next, ensure new leaders have everything they need to fulfil their role. And check in with them regularly for a smooth transition period.

7. Adjust and refine your plan

Succession planning is a continuous process, so once you’ve hired a replacement, put a new succession plan in place. Remember that internal talent, the skills required for management roles as well as the business objectives can change, so you may need to refine your plan regularly to ensure your needs are continually met.

8. Have open conversations

Don’t make assumptions. Have open and honest conversations with senior leaders about their plans or potential upcoming leadership shifts. This can help you have a clearer idea of the situation so you can support leaders them and plan accordingly.

*ABOUT THE RESEARCH - Robert Half has conducted research on CEOs of the ASX 200 by analysing publicly available sources of information about ASX 200 CEOs to track trends including their professional and educational background, gender, and length of tenure. The research was analysed from the 1st June 2019 to 1st July 2019, and all results are correct to the best of our knowledge​ ​ The information within the Robert Half CEO Tracker is based on publicly-available information. Where possible, the information has been checked and verified by the offices of the CEOs.​

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