Succession planning often follows specific guidelines involving coaching, mentoring or training of employees. Or it may be more informal and less structured. Either way, succession planning is vital to all organisations to ensure they are prepared for the future. People Management spoke to Graham Clarke, regional director for the Middle East at international trade finance software company China Systems, about the challenges of filling the shoes of senior people.

If you have to replace a senior figure with decades of experience, who should be the driving force behind the search for their successor?

There is no hard and fast approach to this and it is probably more situational in nature. Ideally, for smaller businesses you would prefer to involve a variety of people, including the person retiring. For larger, more structured organisations this may not be the preferred approach as the HR department would usually be appropriately resourced and experienced in these situations and would have an internal programme aimed at identifying and equipping high performers for succeeding to senior roles.

Of course, for filling senior leadership positions such as C-suite roles, it will often be necessary and preferred, even by large corporations, to look externally for experienced candidates using recruiters or headhunters. In my experience, involving the retiree in the process adds to the quality of the outcome.

How do you replace experience and capture the immense knowledge of the retiree before they walk away?

It is never easy to replace decades of experience, and if a corporation waits until the last minute to attempt to capture the knowledge they will probably fail. It is critical that such experience is shared and passed onto other staff on an ongoing basis. This process can be structured or unstructured, but it is essential that the organisation’s leadership creates a culture recognising they have an obligation to equip and grow their subordinates and peers.

How long should a retiree spend handing over to, training or coaching their replacement?

Generally, two to three months is long enough for a thorough handover. However, this is dependent on the role. Larger organisations tend to have shorter handover periods as the new employee often has a wide support base. Should the handover period not be sufficiently long or well structured, it can result in the newcomer being ineffective for some months, which is counter-productive for the organisation.

Do you recommend first searching for a successor internally? Or do you feel it is beneficial to look externally?

While my preference would be to find an internal successor, I recommend searching both internally and externally before making a final selection. You should always be cognisant of the important positive message that internal career development sends within an organisation. However, sometimes the available internal resources are not yet adequately equipped for the specific role and an external recruit may be the most fitting choice.

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