Strategy Clinic: Planning for the day you move on

What tips can you offer me for setting in place an effective - and diplomatic - succession policy?

What tips can you offer me for setting in place an effective - and diplomatic - succession policy?

Happy as I am in my current position, I do not intend to stay here indefinitely. I am therefore becoming conscious of the need to set in place a succession strategy. Doing so would seem to require that I earmark a staff member for special mentoring and grooming, but I am concerned this will get backs up across the department. What tips can you offer me for setting in place an effective - and diplomatic - succession policy?

The solution

Make your successor official

Professor Dan Remenyi

Grooming a "crown prince" is seldom, if ever, a good idea and it will be very surprising if you don't get a lot of peoples' backs up in a big way. Furthermore the "crown prince" might get ideas above his or her station (if that's possible) and rush out and find another or better job. There are much better ways of handling this. If you want time to develop a successor then appoint a deputy. It is perfectly respectable to ensure that your deputy is fully mentored and trained and is in a position to take over in a seamless way.

Sometimes there is a good reason why there can't be an appointment of a deputy. If this is the case then the alternative strategy is to create a management team of perhaps three or four individuals and offer all of them mentoring and grooming for higher or better positions. This may actually be a safer strategy as it provides the organisation with more than one choice when the boss leaves.

Appoint a deputy or assistant

Ralph Berenbaum


Any suggestions must depend on whether or not you have identified the most likely successor. If you have, then, rather than informal and surreptitious grooming, the natural way forward would be to identify this successor by making a specific appointment - as assistant manager, deputy manager or a similar position which tells the world that he or she is your number two. It will then be expected that you would discuss and coach concerning the issues you face.

Those who are passed over for the promotion will be disappointed but the situation will be far healthier than if your "crown prince" was perceived but not official. Of course, this will mean that you will have to delegate more of your current responsibilities, if the appointment is to be meaningful and this may tend to limit the time you remain in your present position. So you have to think hard about the timing of your likely move.

If you have not decided on the best successor, then the answer may still be to delegate more in order now to help you decide. From your question it sounds as though you feel you know who to choose but are reluctant to commit yourself. Tackling the situation in a partly covert way will certainly upset people.

Delegate specific tasks

John Eary

NCC Services

While succession planning is to be commended, it is worthwhile remembering that many organisations see the departure of staff as an opportunity to reallocate functions, change roles and responsibilities. For this reason do not get too set on creating a dynasty.

However, it will make your life much easier if you are open about your plans. You could approach this problem by either delegating specific tasks to certain staff or you could begin creating a deputy position. In order to reduce antagonism, you may want to advertise the post to your staff and invite applications.

Once the candidate is appointed you can begin preparing your successor. By creating a deputy role you can gradually pass on and increase the responsibility for this post, so that mistakes made at the outset do not have major repercussions. At the same time, it will be made clear to other staff that certain tasks will be handled, in your absence. If and when you do decide to leave, this process will considerably reduce disruption.

Don't expect your new deputy to run things in an entirely similar way to you. Give them some leeway to show initiative within the responsibilities you have set. Remember to allow sufficient time to enable your successor to get to grips with the role. However, you don't want to start the process too early in case it becomes obvious that the deputy can carry out the functions of your job, making you effectively redundant!

A succession strategy is essential

David Taylor


It is absolutely crucial for you, your team and your company, that an effective succession strategy is in place. The average staying time for an IT director is shortening all the time and more opportunities are opening up for those with the right skills, vision and mindset. Often, when people move on, the organisation has no internal candidates identified, let alone developed and ready, and they turn to external recruitment. Bringing people in from outside sends more negative messages to existing people than any internal promotion ever can.

It may seem divisive, but it is your responsibility as an IT leader to identify, inform and develop your next in line, not least because as your role changes, you will have someone on whom you can rely, in your absence.

Forget technology, the key skill to develop in this person is leadership - including personal communication, influence and self-confidence. Mentoring is an excellent idea (though not necessarily with yourself), as is short, focused, beneficial external training.

Provided you are also developing your people overall and putting in place a cultural transformation that reduces the importance of hierarchies and status, you should not have too much problem with existing people. Be open with them about your decision, and go for it.

Involve your staff in the process

Dr Robina Chatham

Cranfield School of Management

Be open and honest about your plans. Talk to your staff about your intentions and the rationale behind them. Get their buy-in to the need for a successor, how you will select one and the follow-on process of grooming.

Research into the human psyche has shown people to be as, if not more, concerned about the processes of decision making than the final outcome. If your people feel you have gone through a "fair process" and they have been informed, involved and had an opportunity to contribute to the debate, they are likely to accept the final outcome with good grace, even if they feel it to be less than ideal in their eyes.

Next week

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