We anticipate that you no longer need to be convinced about the value of succession planning. But maybe you want some ideas for what works, and you are looking for some help in putting together a plan. Perhaps you want a framework, or some good questions to ask, or some examples of what other organisations have done.
You might also want to be aware of the potential pitfalls, to know what conditions need to be in place for a successful approach, and to have an idea of the way the thinking on succession and talent from other sectors might play out in higher education.
We have drawn on our own experiences, and the advice of experts, to create a set of practical tools: definitions, sensible questions to ask at each stage, case examples and further reading. The work was funded as a Small Development Project in 2011-12.
"Succession planning is essential and universities on the whole are not very good at it... We are not very good at talent spotting, but we have had to get better at it not least because, in the much more competitive world we live in, if you do not spot your talent someone else will spot it and seduce it away. So one of the things that we, like many other institutions, are trying to do is find some effective mechanism for succession planning."
Professor Diana Green, former Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University
What is succession management?
There are many definitions of succession management, succession planning and talent management. We think readers of our materials will want to know how we define the key concepts in this field, so we have provided our own definitions, along with a visualisation of those definitions.
Why do it?
Is succession something you feel good employers should do, or an opportunity to create serious – and specific – benefits?
What is your focus when thinking about why you want to do it? The institution? The people? Or both?
What reasons for being interested in succession or talent are significant for you, and what do other stakeholders see as important?
Most organisations will have multiple reasons – different stakeholders will come to the discussion with different ideas – so depending on where and how the initiative originated within the organisation, you might see an emphasis on one or another set of reasons. How will you create agreement on which purposes are most relevant to your own institution?
As food for thought, you could take a look at what other organisations expected from their succession strategies.
As a preliminary exercise, we suggest you spend a few minutes working through our 'focus finder' to see what benefits you might expect from a succession scheme and where you should focus your efforts to achieve them. This is an exercise you can do with colleagues and stakeholders, sharing your responses and discussing the differences.
How it is done
There is no one way to plan and run a succession strategy. Different organisations with different circumstances require different solutions. However there are a number of considerations which will almost always need to be addressed when you are planning your succession strategy:
- Resources – how much will it cost? And how can you justify that cost?
- Making the case – are all the stakeholders convinced about the need for a succession scheme? And do they all agree on the details?
- Size and scope – how specific should the scheme be? How many posts should it cover? What should it focus on?
- Roles, stakeholders and engagement – who will be involved in running the scheme? Are they able and motivated to do it?
- Selection and assessment – how do you select the right people to be part of the process?
- Development methods – how do you actually support and develop individuals once they are part of the succession scheme?