Truly great leaders plan for the future.

Leading lawyers, Caitlin Jenkins of Mills & Reeve and Monica Burch of Addleshaw Goddard, give us their top ten tips for succession planning.

Magazine: FLUX Issue 1; Client: CJBS / LexisNexis

1. Plan to succeed

Caitlin Jenkins (CJ): All our partners attend regular “ five-year workshops” which enable them to step back and look at where they want to be in five years’ time. Whether they want to step up, retire or continue as they are, ongoing open discussions keeps the company prepared for any scenario.

2. Choose the right successor

Monica Burch (MB): Keep a track of your staff’s successes and how they achieved them, but also note their failures and how they responded to and learned from them. Take them out of their comfort zone – that way you learn in plenty of time if they really are the right person to take over.

3. Find the missing link

CJ: Succession planning is a good opportunity to look at your team’s overall skill set and identify if anything is lacking. The potential successors you have identified may not have all the skills you need, so take steps to see how you might make up that shortfall, either by training or further recruitment.

4. Get into training

MB: If you have someone with potential, give them the appropriate skills to step up. Offer them opportunities to do the job, perhaps by getting them to work alongside partners. That way, by the time the succession comes the step-up won’t be a big shock to them, the company or the client.

5. Knowledge is power

CJ: All of us carry at least some knowledge in our heads – information that is unwritten because we “just know” it. But because it’s in our heads, an employer is in danger of losing it when we leave. Get as much of the important stuff written down as possible.

6. It's good to talk

CJ: Whether it’s a temporary or permanent departure, communication is key. Everyone on maternity leave or on long-term sick, for example, has a mentor who stays in touch. It makes people feel valued – and it helps the company to plan.

7. Have a Plan B

MB: With the best will in the world, the best plans can go awry. Potential successors may not work out; others may leave suddenly. Make sure you’ve always got a practical, workable alternative that you can implement immediately – even if it’s only a short term one.

8. Keep it going

CJ: Succession planning is a rolling discipline – it’s not just a one-off plan to prepare for one individual’s departure, it’s about developing a constant level of preparation. Regular meetings, reviews, appraisals and communication all prevent shocks.

9. Own the plan

MB: HR initiatives can sometimes be viewed sceptically or not taken seriously so it’s vital that senior partners shape the plan and then own it. HR will be the ones to make it work, but that won’t happen unless the company’s bosses own, support and advocate it.

10. Keep the customer satisfied

CJ: Knowing your client is vital. If you plan to make any personnel changes, for instance, make sure you talk to the client who will be affected, since they may have specific needs. It continues that sense of an ongoing partnership between you and them.