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"I wanted to say a huge thank you to Simon Bonner who has just helped me secure my new role. He was one of the most professional recruiters I have ever worked with"

Julia Marcinkiewicz

Succession Planning For Senior Executives or Managers

Succession planning is essential for managing any team or running any business. Large companies, public sector employers, and family firms concerned with their future are likely to be actively involved in succession planning across all departments, including sales.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is the process of identifying existing staff who can train up to replace experienced personnel when they leave or retire. It is often many years in the making, with defined career paths where staff move into critical roles throughout their career to prepare them for the target position.

At what point do you consider succession planning for your senior staff?

You can consider succession planning at any point in the hiring process. It may be as early as the interview, where the interviewing panel recognises that the candidate is interviewing them and may well be capable of going on to greater things than the position they are currently considering.

Ideally, succession planning should be in place before something dire happens to any senior staff. There should be an agreed stepping up process; where staff take on duties when the senior colleague is on leave to prepare them for the possibility of having to undertake the role ‘for real’ at some future point.

Critical illness, mental breakdown, or worse can happen to anyone, and when it’s a manager who is affected, there should be a clearly defined chain of escalation where other staff take on the role, or aspects of it, to ensure the continued smooth running of the company. The idea is to keep the senior positions filled while recruiting into lower responsibility roles and training those staff who show themselves capable and interested in taking on additional duties.

Which roles are most suited to succession planning?

Outside of business, ruling families and dynasties are known for succession planning. Some rulers keep their thoughts to themselves; others make it well known that a certain relative will take on duties when necessary. In a business scenario, it is usually executive and operational positions most suited to the succession planning process.

Is promoting your best salesperson to sales manager the best option?

In a phrase, the answer to that question is ‘not necessarily’. Your best salesperson is likely to be a pure sales-orientated individual, not a people manager. They may have people management skills when it comes to persuading customers to buy, but they may not have the best temperament to manage a sales team. Sports teams have the same problem. Some players may be outstanding team players but may not be able to handle the intricacies of managing a bunch of teammates. Others may be able to inspire both with their play on the pitch and their leadership off it.

Promoting your best salesperson also means they are no longer making good figures out in the field, so you must consider this.

The nuts and bolts of succession planning

The best way of approaching the succession planning process is to plan ahead. Existing managers should know who will be handling their workload when they’re on leave or off sick. They should work with those colleagues to ensure they are up to speed with the current tasks, the challenges and the potential issues which may arise before they need to leave a colleague in charge.

For anyone dealing with succession planning for the first time, there is a wealth of literature around to help as well as the advice to start planning early. This could involve taking or sending colleagues to meetings, sharing the work on a specific project and delegating tasks.

There may also be no natural successor within the current staff establishment. In this case, approaches will need to be made to suitable external candidates to entice them to join the company with the plan that they take over a specific role in due course. In many cases, the more senior a role is, the smaller the pool of suitable staff will be. In this situation, even a strong succession culture within an organisation may not be enough, and an outside appointment can bring new insights and experience to the role.

Keeping an overlap

When planning for a succession process, it is always best to ensure you adequately train those in deputy roles to take the reins as and when needed. You can achieve this by having a regular rota for the manager or lead of the day, ensuring those staff routinely have to cover for others, have a full handover process, or instigating a robust training and acting up programme for any staff wishing to progress. This overlap in duties will ensure a smooth transition during periods of low staffing and instil confidence that the full succession planning process can be implemented when needed.

You may also be interested in:

Commission Schemes

Sales Industry Statistics

Creative Team Building

How to Reward Top Sales Staff Without Going Over Budget

Devising an Induction Programme

Implementing a Flexible Working Policy

Succession Planning For Senior Managers or Executives

Published: 18th February 2020

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Date published: 26th February 2024

Lucy Burrows, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment

About the author

Lucy Burrows

Lucy is a diligent and stealthily competitive recruiter passionate about delivering clients’ expectations and helping candidates perform their best in interviews.  She thrives on ensuring that the role is suitable for every candidate and hearing about the successes of her placements.  Her content is straightforward, easy-to-read advice focused on first interview tips.

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