• AssocLeadership

Who loses out when you win the lottery?

Ok – now that I’ve got your attention, this blog is actually about succession planning, rather than winning the lottery. I could similarly have titled it “what else goes wrong when you fall under a bus” but somehow didn’t think it would have the same appeal. Parking levity to the side for a moment, succession planning is often talked about, but rarely acted upon, in a genuine sense.

Last week I had the opportunity to present on this topic at a CEO Forum run by the Institute of Association Management, and it seemed to stimulate quite a conversation


The aim of this blog is a gentle reminder that succession planning is a vital part of any business – and charities, trade associations and professional bodies are no exemption. One of the key reminders which came out of the CEO Forum is that whilst CEO's and their boards sometimes talk about future succession planning for themselves, it’s something which affects all key positions or staff within an organisation.

In order to see how organised you are in terms of succession planning, ask yourself the following questions:

If my managers all left tomorrow, who could step up to replace them?

How well do I know the rising talent in my organisation?

How well do I know everybody in my organisation, and their future plans?

When did I last update the risk register to include all key staff, possibly by name?

The chances are, if you’ve done most of the above, then you’re pretty well organised, and need read no further…but if there are things above that you’ve wondered why I’ve included in a blog on succession planning, then read on!

Let’s start with the basics: succession planning should be embedded in the culture of an organisation, at all levels. It’s not just a conversation that CEO’s have with their boards, it’s a conversation that the CEO should have with the SMT, and in turn, the senior managers should have both with their peers and their own teams. Too often as a recruiter, I get called in to recruit in an emergency, where a manager has left and there’s nobody to replace him or her, where a last-minute ‘rapid hire’ hasn’t worked out - or where an internal promotion has gone ‘wrong’ because there was no succession planning, and it was just assumed that X could move up into Y’s job.

Looking at succession planning in another way, wherever possible the gap between different levels of staff should never be so huge that managers couldn’t step in for their directors – or, of course, vice-versa. This inevitably means learning to delegate, which I like many others (with my tendency to be a bit of a control freak) still find tough to do. However, it’s essential if you’re ever going to encourage growth and development from within. Managers who cannot delegate need to be coached and supported to let go of the things they’ve always done.

Back to my four original questions. The one based on how well you know the talent in your organisation is asking if you have audited your organisation’s rising stars and future leaders, but it’s really only half the question. It’s one thing to have identified your future generation of leaders, but what if they’re not going to stay within your organisation?

This leads (neatly) onto the third question: How well do you know your staff’s motivations, interests and life plans? Motivation Maps provide an excellent way of checking what really motivates a member of staff and can actually save an organisation thousands of pounds of wasted recruitment fees, training courses and unnecessary pay rises – since there is no point squandering precious resources on people who are either not motivated by these things, or are planning to leave the organisation. Used in the context of helping succession planning, motivation maps will allow you understand if the individual whom you have identified as a future successor might actually want the job you have them earmarked for.

The final part of the puzzle depends on how well you know your staff. Again, you may have identified future talent, and the Motivation Maps indicate that they’re as keen as mustard on moving up within an organisation – but what else might be going on in their lives in the background, which could affect whether or not they fulfil the plans you have for them? The best succession planning is multi-layered, i.e., B could replace A, but if B decides to leave, then C could also step up to assume further duties – in which case both B and C are worth investing in as potential future leaders.

There is an argument that the more one invests in one’s staff, the easier it becomes for them to get a job elsewhere. We’re told that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. My seventeen years of recruitment experience tells me this isn’t always the case; whilst bad bosses often play their part, people tend to leave their roles because they’ve outgrown them, they see no future at the organisation or because the role they’re doing has lost its challenge. Proof, perhaps why succession planning is an important aspect of being a leader in any organisation and should be embedded in all levels of the organisation…

I have been chipping away at the coal face of recruitment since 2001, and regularly coach senior leaders in the sector on ‘how to do things better’. If any of the above strikes a chord with you, or you'd like further support on anything from job design through to motivation mapping, feel free to email me at

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