In this guest blog, Neil Humphreys, partner at Howgate Sable – a leading executive search firm, which indentifies top talent for board-level positions – provides his tips for making sure you’re prepared to deal with unexpected exits
It’s what any business dreads: your top talent unexpectedly leaving the organisation and, in turn, leaving you in the lurch. Whether they’ve decided to jump ship and go elsewhere, or they’ve fallen ill and need to take long-term leave, it’s crucial for you to have a contingency plan in place so that you can mitigate the impact on your business.
Rather than hitting the panic button when one of your business-critical employees hands their notice in – a notice period that always seems to fly by and before you know it they’ve gone – it makes sense to be ahead of the game and prepare for such events.
Historically, having a formal talent pipeline in place has been seen as something reserved for blue chips – companies that had the scale and financial weight to invest in such a luxury. It was also more geared towards graduates: high achievers who were put through company-sponsored MBAs and other qualifications to prepare themselves for leadership positions.
These days, however, many different industries are at near-full employment, meaning there’s a fierce ‘war for talent’ and the more pragmatic companies are looking at talent pipeline from a business continuity perspective. In this scenario, it’s even more important for HR to invest time, effort and intelligence into organisational design, risk mitigation and future planning.
Identify your top talent
By applying the Pareto principle – which states that around 20 per cent of invested input is responsible for roughly 80 per cent of the results achieved – you can identify which roles your business simply can’t function without. As an HR professional, it’s crucial to identify where your biggest dependencies are and who would pose the biggest risk if they were to leave. It could be your head of sales who you rely on for all incoming business, for example, or your CFO, who’s responsible for your company’s financial health.
Implement risk mitigation strategies
Once you know who your vital individuals are, you must put measures in place both to retain them and to make sure you have a plan B if such retention strategies don’t work. While succession planning isn’t just a nicety, or about telling people they’ve got a wonderful future and preening the top five per cent of employees, it’s important to monitor how happy these people are in their work and make sure they’re receiving appropriate reward and recognition.
This isn’t an entirely reliable tactic, though; ostensibly, an employee can appear content, but they could be planning a move without you knowing it. And anyone can be struck with illness or a family issue at any time, requiring them to take prolonged absence or, worse, leave altogether. With this in mind, you need to look at their key responsibilities and build a team around them who can step up should the need arise.
Then there’s looking outside your business for a stand-in. While it may seem strange to search for a replacement for somebody who may not even be showing any signs of leaving, the reality is that a standard notice period doesn’t always leave enough time for you to find the right person for the job, resulting in an unstable void period. So, consider speaking to an expert who can create a talent pipeline of suitable candidates for you in advance. It’ll mean you can quickly plug in any unexpected gaps with people you can trust will succeed in the role.
By considering organisational design, having a robust plan in place and ensuring they have adequate back-up – rather than just waiting for the worst to happen – organisations will be much better equipped to protect their business, mitigate any risk and retain a competitive advantage.
For more advice on succession planning, get in touch with Howgate Sable.