eaders have responsibilities to the shareholders to ensure that the skills and knowledge which the company pays for, and expects in return the deliverables previously agreed to at the time of the contract inception, are used to further and promote the interests of the company. Companies must also take into account the inherently temporal nature of employment relationships and plan accordingly. This means that a company must always have a plan B, when it comes to management and executive staff, this means a succession plan, for most if the key positions in a company.

This does not mean, that company must have two managers for every managers position, but rather, like in performing arts and theatre, that there is an understudy for every key role. Some companies may refer to this as job shadowing, or mentoring or even just succession planning. It involves the transfer of organizational knowledge and operational processes from one individual to another, on the understanding that should the primary individual, for whatever reason no longer is available to the company, that their functions could be continued by their understudies.

From an individual’s perspective, this type of process may be disturbing and cause a certain degree of job insecurity, but from a corporate perspective this type of approach to staff skilling and contingency planning is absolutely critical. A more cynical viewpoint proposes that it places companies in a position to rapidly downsize if the need arises without significant operational impact. This may have an element of truth in it, but if we examine the ownership responsibilities of companies, the shareholders are the ultimate benefactors of all the company’s activities. In order to protect their interests, succession plans and contingent arrangements ensure the company’s ability to continue to do business in the event of a sudden loss of key personnel.

Employees have to come to terms with their duties and responsibilities in their positions, and that continuity of the business is in the interest of all the members of the staff. Another very important stakeholder in the succession plans of a company, are its customers, who will have additional confidence to trust a supplier with a larger share of business, if they know that their supplier has taken reasonable precautions to safeguard the security of their supply. Many large corporates make this a condition of business when they enter into supply agreements, to ensure that all safety measures possible are taken to ensure continuity of supply. A supplier company may even leverage a larger share of their customers business by reviewing together with their customer their succession plan at regular intervals.

Succession planning is not just a good idea; it is an absolute necessity in any medium to large company. For the individual employees who through their achievements and or qualifications, are selected for grooming or job understudy, they should regard it as an opportunity for personal growth, and to secure future promotion within the company. Companies should also encourage junior employees to engage in part-time studies to further their education, and at the same time acquire skills useful to the individual and the company at a later stage.

Many current senior managers are of the opinion, that this type of training makes key employees attractive to competitors, and on one level, this may be so. However, any company in this situation, who undertakes to encourage additional training and education among its employees, also has to accept that a certain amount of movement, of employees will occur, people will always move. With reasons as diverse as the numbers of people themselves. What a company also needs to realize, is that with increased competency, and education of employees, comes increased expectations of remuneration. Properly implemented succession plans will take this into account, and for those selected to participate, there should be clear indication of their rewards, as well as their expected achievements, in order to attain those rewards. Correctly managed, a plan like this would effectively prevent key skills bleed from most positions deemed essential by the company.

A vital function of corporate leadership is to recognize that corporate tenure is at best temporary, and the interests of the shareholders normally outlast the tenure of the executive, and that a company should be constantly incubating talent, to ensure survival of the enterprise. The advantage of many companies thinking this way would be to reduce the risk of the ever present skills bleed threat currently so prominent in certain professions. If a mind-set change is possible, then in a few years, with education and training, vital skills can be regrown and retained in the local market, surely, this can only be good for business?

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