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Succession management key characteristics

Modern succession planning takes account of the fast-changing world in which organisations have to operate, and assumes that:

  • the roles to be filled are those that the organisation will need in the future, not now;
  • the roles to be filled may not yet exist in the organisation;
  • the individuals who might take part in succession or talent schemes have their own career and life plans, and may or may not choose to be around when ‘their turn’ comes – so a looser, more flexible approach is needed than previously;
  • greater diversity of people in leadership roles, and transparency in decisionmaking about people, are desirable in organisational life;
  • the conversations that take place around succession and talent are as valuable as the decisions about individuals and roles.

In higher education we have a long history of respecting the needs and aspirations of the individual, and of organic rather than top-down change. We also have to factor in academic ambivalence around leadership, a tradition of collegial shared leadership, and discomfort with singling out individuals for special treatment.

All of this suggests that succession and talent schemes within our sector may work best if they are flexible and respectful of individuals’ values and life choices, and if the assessment that they include has an element of autonomy. Enabling individuals to assess whether leadership is for them is as important as enabling the organisation to decide whether the individual matches up to the demands of leadership.