Strategy Clinic: No one has the skills to be my replacement

I am only a few years away from retirement and the board recently asked me about succession planning. I see some very competent...

I am only a few years away from retirement and the board recently asked me about succession planning. I see some very competent people around me, but none who seem to be rounded in all the skills required. What should I do next?

Develop a long-term and an emergency short-term plan
Develop two succession plans. The first will identify who should succeed you in an emergency; the other will look ahead to when you retire. The emergency plan will concentrate on what skills are needed to manage IT today and will be the easier to deal with. The forward-looking plan needs to envisage what your role will be when you retire. This is vital as IT management roles, from the chief information officer downwards, are evolving quickly.

Develop three alternative scenarios for the future of your role and look at the common skills and those that are unique to one scenario. This will help ensure that your succession plan is as robust as possible.

It is likely you will identify a different person to succeed you between the emergency and longer-term plans and in each of the longer-term scenarios. Use the time between now and when you retire to find the right people and prepare them.

Chris Potts director, Dominic Barrow

Appoint a deputy and then plan for a successor
Although succession planning is to be commended, your life will be much easier if you are open about your plans. At the very least create a deputy position so it is clear there is someone who can take on some of your responsibilities in your absence.

Once the candidate is appointed, you can go about the development of your successor. Do not expect that person to run things in a similar way to you and give the postholder some leeway to show initiative within the responsibilities you set.

The experience of being a deputy should help in the development of more rounded skills, but particular gaps can be addressed by appropriate training. By creating a deputy role you can gradually increase the responsibilities so that mistakes made at the outset do not have major repercussions.

Try to set realistic timescales. You need to allow sufficient time for the person you are grooming to get to grips with the job. However, you should not start this process too early so that it becomes obvious that the deputy can carry out your job, making you an unwilling candidate for early retirement.

Do not become too set on creating a dynasty. Many organisations see the departure of staff as an opportunity to reallocate functions and change roles and responsibilities.

John Eary, NCC Group

Equip current employees with the right skills
It sounds as if you do not know whether these competent people want promotion, so the first step should be to ask them.

Assuming some of them are interested, you should spend time with them and agree what personal development and training they need to be considered for promotion.

Draw up personal development schemes. This will probably involve you delegating some of the work you do to them, mentoring them and providing time for management training courses and so on.

What you should not do is lead them into thinking that the job they are being groomed for is guaranteed. The job, if and when it becomes vacant, will still be advertised and the best person appointed. What you are doing is equipping your people to stand a better chance of getting promoted and protecting your company from loss of expertise.

Roger Marshall, BCS Elite

Find out each candidate's strengths and weaknesses
It is a credit to your judgement that the board seeks your involvement. Succession planning is about fostering talent and shaping opportunities and options towards your organisation's objectives. Usually, only in the last stages is an heir apparent anointed.

Look ahead to what skills, experience and views will be needed. For example, if you have just completed expensive application/infrastructure renewals, your organisation may need a business process and cost-cutting focus, or vice versa, an experienced change driver.

Harness the ambitions of your current team. Encourage their further desire without leading them on. Do not keep your encouragement to the obvious few candidates close at hand. Others with less seniority, or those not so well-rounded may surprise you by rising to new challenges. Let each candidate understand what strengths you see in them so they can build on them. Help them accept and resolve your perceptions of their deficiencies.

Start keeping notes on the strengths and weaknesses of each apparent candidate. Your board may listen to your advice but it must reach its own conclusions and will respect a balanced view.

Establish a timetable. Provide various tests or career-rounding experiences for a few candidates prior to the final choice. If you feel strongly there is little hope for a home-grown successor, you will have a timetable to bring in new talent or hire an external replacement.

Antony Smyth, partner, Ernst & Young

Find out if your job description will be changing
The first thing to realise is that what you are thinking about others is almost certainly what your bosses thought about you years ago. Having the confidence to lead effectively means a belief in one's own abilities - no one can be as good as you, can they?

Succession planning means just that. You will look at likely candidates internally, identify where they need to improve their skills, experience, etc, and provide them with a way to do it. You will look at the results and those who have responded in the best way will become the most likely internal candidates. If you are still not confident, external recruitment has to form part of your succession plan.

Remember that you no doubt have matured into the job, but try to look back at what you brought to the job originally.

Robin Laidlaw, president, CW500 Club

Plan a skills list that you agree with the board
Your first step is to evaluate the skills required by your successor. These may be different from your current set of skills and may be offered by more than one role. For example, there may be a business change chief information officer supported by a more technology-focused IT manager.

This can give you the opportunity to engage in a discussion with the board on their requirements and expectations in the next five to 10 years. What legacy will you be leaving to your successor? How broad is your applications portfolio and how solid is your infrastructure? Can you support potential growth opportunities?

There is a broad range of skills required by a CIO. The views of senior IT managers, as expressed in a BCS/Henley survey, showed that personal skills were more critical than technical skills. Business, management and professional skills were also important. You need to define the roles and the skills prior to defining the succession plan.

If the gap is too great you need to consider making a decision now on bringing the right people in. Cultural fit is too important to leave until you retire.

Sharm Manwani, Henley Management College

E-mail your Strategy Clinic questions, or your own solution to this question, to [email protected]

The experts
Computer Weekly has put together a panel of experts. You can draw on their specialist knowledge to solve a problem. E-mail your questions (or your own solution to this question) to [email protected]

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Ernst & Young:

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Computer Weekly 500 Club:

Henley Management College:

British Computer Society:


The Corporate ITForum:

Dominic Barrow:

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