Develop a Succession plan for your Business

A succession plan is often associated with the process of filling a leadership role in a business when that person moves on.  The term originates from the process of royal succession.  However, in business, it should refer to the process of ensuring any role in an organisation can be filled by someone else. All businesses should plan for this and manage it - there will always be staff turnover, other people to hire, new industries or opportunities to explore and candidates out there who can help you achieve different goals.

But if someone essential is lost, for any reason, it’s best to have a plan in place. In some instances, the loss of a key employee can have serious consequences.  It needs to be handled carefully and planned well in advance.  If not, you could end up in a worse place than you began. The need can be emphasised when someone who is older is leaving because of the question about what happens to the knowledge they’ve gathered over time.  Filling this gap can be difficult.  More often than not, an older employee would be replaced with someone far younger who doesn't have the same level of knowledge.  This is where a succession plan becomes critical to the survival of that knowledge, which in turn will support the company into the future.

What’s in a plan

A succession plan can vary from company to company.  Having one is essential for any position that involves a lot of operational detail to be done effectively.  These jobs can often be taxing or over-whelming to a replacement (even with the proper training) and would require an in-depth knowledge of the tasks required that only a seasoned employee would have.

A business succession plan can contain (but is not limited to) these components:

  • Operations manual

  • Business inventory information

  • Operations templates, dossiers, procedures

  • Handover documents


Most companies will have a formal handover process and as an employer, you will need to provide a set of instructions for both the person leaving and the replacement employee. 


Managing succession in an ageing workforce

With the ageing of our population, the numbers of working people over the age of 45 years is also increasing and it's this that is posing a particular challenge when it comes to managing succession. With the baby boomer generation now aged between 54 and 74 years old, there is a spike of people moving into the traditional retirement period of their lives, meaning more people leaving the workforce and therefore more need for succession planning.

Passing on knowledge and experience before it's too late is extremely important for many reasons, among them being:

  1. Continuity of service and operations

  2. Limits any interruption or errors

  3. Help others learn and develop in different roles

  4. Maintains knowledge within an organisation

  5. Supports ongoing profitability

  6. Limits the passing of knowledge to competitors


With an ageing workforce, it is important to engage the whole organisation in a succession process whereby younger employees learn continuously from their older or more experienced colleagues. This ongoing process of sharing knowledge and experience among different employees at different levels develops a more engaged workforce unit.  

There are a number of ways to achieve this overt and transparent succession process so that it becomes part of the everyday management:

  1. Managed transfers between different departments to work with different teams and colleagues

  2. On-the-job shadowing between older more experienced workers and younger colleagues

  3. Cross train between different roles

  4. Continuous learning for specific roles and responsibilities

  5. Establishing development plans for every employee as part of the ongoing succession planning for the organisation as a whole


Because succession planning involves people's roles, views and opinions about their current and future role, it has to be very carefully managed within accepted human resource procedures, and with the necessary privacy and confidentiality. As a result, no one person's plan would be discussed with another, however, if everyone in an organisation is engaged in organisation wide sharing of knowledge then succession planning is one significant result.


There are distinct advantages of succession planning for employers:

  • It creates a more engaged workforce and this, in turn, supports the culture of an organisation and it achieving its mission and vision

  • It means having a more flexible workforce with employees stepping into the shoes of others more easily

  • It means you can take on new ideas, innovate or tackle new opportunities more readily because you know that business-as-usual will be taken care of

  • It enables an organisation to capture the baby-boomer knowledge before it reaches the typical retirement age and walks out the door for good

And for employees there are also advantages:

  • Sharing knowledge and learning is good for any person's self-esteem confidence and career development

  • An employee can grow with the company and take on new opportunities when they arise

  • Older workers can learn new skills from younger colleagues and vice versa, as each generation has different skills to offer

  • Being in a better position to take on more responsibility, and this, of course, can come with more benefits, including better remuneration

The key to succession planning is having a culture where people share knowledge and are eager to learn from each other, and that this is managed consistently across an organisation.


Show me the knowledge!

When it comes to an actual succession or handover, it is essential to guide the departing person as well as the one taking on a new role. Much of the success of this is dependent on the ongoing processes we've discussed above.  Guiding your new employee through the handover process should be the job of the departing employee and the employer. As part of the ongoing succession plan the employer will also have identified the most suitable internal person for the job, or established the criteria to search for someone externally.  The key here is to ensure there is an effective handover.  

Helping this process includes:

  1. Build a friendly relationship between the two workers - while they may not be together for long, it’s crucial to establish camaraderie.  This can help them interact better for a smoother changeover.

  2. Be involved in the process.  If the person taking on the role is new it can affect your entire business. Your succession plan should make allowances for you to be personally involved, to make sure that they’re a good fit for both the job and your company.

  3. Become a role model yourself. For both the older worker and the newer employee, your conduct in following the succession plan and how you go about it will serve as an example that can help them in their jobs in the future.


Remember the part-time option

People's views about retirement are changing.  It's more likely now that people want to work longer and see retirement as a mix of leisure and work.

 This is an opportunity for businesses to:

  • Hold onto significant experience for longer

  • And at the same time buy a little time to manage an effective succession

More older workers are wanting or needing to continue working. This change in demographics can work in favour of businesses.  And if you are looking for experience you may also be able to find someone who is older and has the experience you need. Since a succession plan relies on cooperation between the successor and the departing employee, it cannot appear out of thin air as and when someone decides to leave.  It is an ongoing process, affecting the whole business and openly discussed.  


The passing down of knowledge, the sharing of it and collaborating, are all important processes that are essential for a business's ongoing success. If managed correctly this knowledge can both assist employees develop their career, while at the same time helping a company to maintain its own ongoing growth, profitability and success.


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