Focus: People Management - How to ... plan for succession

Amanda Tincknell looks at the most effective ways of replacing key members of staff to ensure continuity and development.

Look around your office. How many managers or members of your senior team are under the age of 35?

In 2003, one study found that 31 per cent of local government workers were over 50. The situation in the voluntary sector is unlikely to be very different.

This means that, depending on the outcome of the current pensions debate, employers including voluntary bodies could be faced with finding successors to a large group of workers at the same time.

It's not only a dominant age group that can cause problems.

In lean voluntary organisations, especially small ones, flat management structures mean many staff at senior levels are focused on service delivery and don't have the opportunity to develop the strategic skills they need for management roles.

Succession planning can help you look ahead and align your staffing needs, individual development plans and training activities with your strategy - and to be prepared when key colleagues resign their positions.

Remember your business plan - where is your organisation going and what are the skills you need to get it there? What are the important elements of your culture and how do you need to reinforce them? It's not set in stone - your succession plans will change as your strategy evolves.

Which jobs are critical? It might not be only the senior team whose succession is important. Think about specialist roles, or jobs in fields where recruitment is difficult, and make sure you have a plan for their succession.

Audit your existing skills and make sure your recruitment, development and training match your organisation's strategic and operational needs.

If they don't, start recruiting and developing key skills - ideally, you'll get a workforce of talented people capable of fulfilling different roles.

Succession planning used to be a secretive process. But if you have a clear strategy, it's important to let your team know how that translates into job requirements. Individual input about aspirations and ambitions is important and can open up new options. Make sure you know before incorporating them into your succession plan.

Think long term. Your succession plan should result from and contribute to many other elements of strategic and HR planning. So be creative - succession planning is a chance to introduce new ideas and continue improvements in your areas of strength.

- This article is intended as a guide and is not a substitute for specific professional advice. The Cranfield Trust is not responsible for errors or omissions.


One small voluntary organisation was closely identified with its founder, despite considerable growth and a strong management team. To prepare for her retirement in two years' time, the charity decided to review all its key roles to make sure they matched the business plan for the coming five years.

A skills audit looked at the hard (functional) and soft (culturally specific) skills it needed, and started to identify staff members with strong potential for existing and future roles, as well as opportunities to bring in new skills. The entire staff was made aware of the plan developed by the senior team and encouraged to contribute through their appraisal processes.

The founder, who had felt proud of but slightly trapped by her close association with the organisation, was encouraged to review her role and contribute to a specification for her job. This enabled her to be confident that the organisation would continue to develop strongly after her retirement.

- Amanda Tincknell is chief executive of the Cranfield Trust (www.cranfield, which provides free consultancy to the voluntary sector through commercial sector volunteers. This article draws on recent case work.

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