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Why succession planning is more than just deaths and retirements

Jill Miller of the CIPD explains the importance of getting a succession plan in place now to ensure your business will be in safe hands when any employee departs.

If one of your employees told you today that they were leaving, how would you react? Would you panic, wonder how you’d ever replace them and fear for the contract you’ve just won?

Or would you welcome the opportunity to bring on their colleague you’ve been priming for promotion?

In a small company, where business success relies heavily on the individual skills and abilities of each member of staff, thinking seriously about succession planning before people leave is essential. Leave it until someone resigns and it can be too late.

The term succession is usually associated with planning who will assume a future leadership role, but it needs to be much wider than this, especially in smaller companies, which is where 85 per cent of construction workers are employed.

It’s important to identify key roles at every level and think about what you would do if one of your people were to leave. Could the loss of one person’s skills result in losing a contract or leave you struggling to complete a job on time?

Steps to follow

There are simple steps you can follow to develop a succession plan:

  • Identify the pivotal and specialist roles in your company.
  • Highlight what additional roles you think your business may need in the future. Are you planning to expand an aspect of your business or diversify your products or services?
  • Identify the skills and qualities required in each of these roles.
  • Consider if there is anyone who, with training, could take on these roles if the current individuals left. Or do you need to be thinking now about hiring externally for someone who could either do or develop into this role?
  • Keep revisiting and revising your plan at regular intervals as your business grows and your needs develop.

Employee development

It is important that your entire people approach, including how you hire and train, supports your succession plan.

The development of future employees is something many SMEs in the industry are already thinking about, with some 60 per cent of construction apprentices being employed by micro-businesses.

“It’s important that your entire people approach, including how you hire and train, supports your succession plan”

However, when recruiting – especially into apprentice and junior roles – you should ask yourself whether these people have the potential to grow with your company and develop their career with you.

Consider the attitude and behaviour of a potential new employee, not just technical skills – it’s easier to teach someone new skills than it is to change their attitude.

Once you’ve identified potential successors for critical roles, it’s important to think about the training and development they will need.

Whether it’s gaining business acumen or honing leadership skills, spending time with the person currently doing the job in both a training and mentoring capacity can ensure skills are passed on.

Improving motivation

As well as meeting a business need, placing a focus on developing a person’s skills can improve motivation, helping employees to see their future with the company.

See if you can promote cross-training between roles. For example, if a builder’s apprentice shows a particular interest in joinery, could some of their time be spent working alongside a carpenter to learn key skills?

Cross-training can be particularly useful to cover when someone is off sick or on holiday, or during peak periods of work.

Lastly, any business owner knows how hard it can be to think about letting go of the reins and handing the business over to someone else, but planning your own successor is one of the most important things an owner can do.

Advance preparation ensures you can hand responsibility over to someone you trust – someone who shares your passion and determination to make the business a success.

Jill Miller is a research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

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