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Succession management - Size and scope

When thinking about succession schemes, the model that probably comes to mind – because it is the most common – is one that covers only the most senior jobs in the organisation and their short-term and longer-term successors. But there are other models, some of which are exemplified in higher education.

In designing schemes an organisation is likely to have both strategic and tactical drivers for deciding on focus. For example, the organisation’s top management team may all be approaching their likely retirement dates. This creates a strategic driver to start with the top. The need to manage numbers in a succession scheme also provides a tactical driver to focus on the top management team rather than including all managers and leaders in the scheme. Other tactical drivers might include:

  • Interests and concerns of staff representatives;
  • Interests of key senior stakeholders;
  • Robustness of key supporting processes;
  • Skill set in HR;
  • Managers’ skill sets;
  • Interests and energy in particular areas of the organisation eg one department or school;
  • Cultural aspects – will a scheme that works for academics be inappropriate for other staff or vice versa?

So, having identified strategic and tactical drivers, and our expected benefits, how should we then decide on the size and scope of our scheme?

As one starting point, we have revisited the Focus Finder to show how an organisation might seek to achieve each of the substantive corporate benefits.

It may also be helpful to look at the decisions other higher education institutions have made regarding the size and scope of their schemes. The succession schemes at the BBC, Nottingham Trent University and Newcastle University are good examples of schemes encompassing all leadership roles, either all together or starting at the top and working down. Imperial College London chose a different approach - a 'horizontal slice' through the organisation, covering selected roles in all departments.