Four chess pieces in a row with arrows in between them to illustrate a succession planning concept.
Image: © Vitalii Vodolazskyi/

Succession planning: How to cultivate the next generation of talent

4 Dec 2023

The key to succession planning is implementing good learning and development strategies for future leaders to shine when their time comes.

“With the unpredictable events of recent years, it’s understandable to feel that planning is an uphill battle,” says Adam Coleman, CEO of Irish HR business HRLocker. “None of us could have foreseen the unprecedented scale and pace of changes in how companies operate since the outbreak of Covid-19.”

If the pandemic taught businesses anything, it taught them the value of good leadership. Yes, as Coleman acknowledges, it can be hard to plan in an uncertain climate, but long-term visions require a certain amount of strategising.

“You can’t teach highly skilled jobs overnight,” he points out. “By constructing a long-term learning and development programme, you can cultivate skills at a sustainable pace. And if you want to fill your leadership positions down the line, having someone prepped and ready will make the whole process run seamlessly.”

That goes for family-owned SMEs right up to large multinational companies. The processes might be different but the thinking should be the same. Even if you know a family member is going to lead the company in the future, you still have to make sure they have the appropriate skills and experience to take over. Their learning curve should start several years before they are fully in charge.

According to Coleman, a good succession plan can be divided into three main stages.

Identify organisational objectives

“Starting with your company objectives, you can deduce which skills and roles will be needed to meet them,” says Coleman. “Don’t panic if they’re skills and functions you don’t already have in your existing talent pool – that comes along in the third stage.”

Evaluate existing staff

“By evaluating your existing staff in line with those objectives, you can map the work needed to get them to the next level. For instance, if you know you will need greater digital skills or data analysis, you should implement initiatives focused on those areas.”

Implement training

“With your objectives identified and staff capabilities assessed, you can design a learning and development programme that moves people closer towards those future roles,” says Coleman. This leaves space for technological advances and new ways of doing business that will inevitably happen in the intervening years.

“Don’t be afraid to adjust your succession planning and development initiatives per changing goals,” Coleman adds. “Succession plans should be agile and adaptable, in keeping with modern businesses.”

He also advises that, “Instead of self-directed learning options, structuring your development programme in line with organisational goals will help you direct skills and attention towards the stuff that matters most”.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that implementing a learning and development strategy is not just necessary for succession planning, it is also key to retaining talent in general. Coleman previously told that continuous development for all staff members helps business leaders keep workers motivated and loyal.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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