“The first rule of succession planning is that we don’t talk about succession planning.”
An outdated view you might think, but a phrase I’ve heard as recently as the past few months amongst directors. Thankfully, this phrase is not as common amongst boards as it used to be however succession discussions are still not as frequently on board agendas as they should be. If having the right talent to execute on strategy is a necessity within the organisation, then the powerhouse of strategic thinking, the Board will be left exposed if its own succession planning is not a strategic priority.
Even without director changes, the Board by its very nature continually evolves. The best leaders are learners, and as such director’s skills are often constantly developing. That said, it’s important to consider new external skills, perspectives and experience to keep pace with the external environment too. This dynamism necessitates the need to annually review the Board’s skills but also when significant change occurs internally or externally to the organisation. Remaining sustainable in the longer-term is as much to do with the skills and experience around the boardroom table as it is the execution.
Succession planning is so much more than a ‘replacement’ strategy for existing directors. People leave directorships for many reasons; both voluntarily or otherwise. Strategic board succession planning affords an organisation the minimum of disruption and maximises the chance of future success. It should be an integral part of talent development for executive director roles and part of the ongoing assessment of skills and attributes required in non-executive directors to support future success.
Succession planning events
There are three key scenarios every board advisory should consider:
Is your board reactive, proactive or strategic with its succession planning?
Just like your business continuity plan it’s too late to consider succession planning when succession is a problem. No one is irreplaceable but succession has a nasty habit of creeping up on you when you least expect it and could throw business health off course due to the resource needed to fill the vacancy, the impact of losing a key director, or both. Considering succession planning early is key.
Template to evaluate Board skills