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Cambridge | crobinson@sandler.com
 

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The trouble is that we start discussing things in January, finalise plans sometime around April, it then takes a couple of months to get people and budgets in place by which time we’re into the summer holidays. So it’s hardly surprising then that we really get going on our annual plan sometime around September, we haven’t a hope of delivering the income that our January discussions envisaged.

As we approach the beginning of September, those businesses whose plans were made in January are now starting to bear fruit; delivering improved customer service, profitability, product lines et-cetera. And for many the next phase of the planning cycle is underway, reviewing and refining in order to deliver further improvements.

But whether your planning cycle is based on six months or a year there is one area which has to be viewed with a far longer lens: succession planning. Quite simply, leadership isn’t a six-month or even a one-year plan. And we are not simply talking here about leaders at the top of organisations; the departure of department and team leaders at all levels across the organisation can leave a significant gap in knowledge and approach if sufficient attention isn’t being paid to identifying and training up potential successors.

The trouble is that it’s easy to be sucked into the daily or even the annual routine. When we need to provide people with the skills to cope with this new piece of technology, this new project, and so on; whether our training approach is structured along formal lines, or delivered via a more ad hoc as-and-when blended learning system, we are still essentially training for today.

Succession planning isn’t simply a matter of imparting process and procedural knowledge; although of course that is important. Rather, it’s about preparing people to step up and meet the challenges of the next rung of the ladder, and the next, and the next. That means helping people to develop a more holistic understanding of the organisation in its entirety as well as building personal skills such as communication and decision-making, leadership and delegation. And you aren’t going to do that overnight.

To put it bluntly, succession planning doesn’t run in neat cycles to tie in with the calendar or fiscal year. True succession planning is delivered through a continuous programme of development which looks to enable every individual within the organisation to develop the skills which they will need in future roles. When that ongoing programme isn’t in place then the departure of a leader at any level can not only leave a hole in the organisation, it also shines a spotlight on the belief that no one on the next level on the leadership rung has the potential to step up and fill the breach.

Whichever way you look at it, failure of succession planning equates to a fundamental failure of leadership. So the question has to be not just what are you doing today to plan for your future leaders, but what are you doing today, tomorrow and every day to develop your people for the ongoing good of the organisation.

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