Succession Planning for HR Roles

Succession Planning for HR Roles

Succession planning is about ensuring the talent pool never runs dry, yet many businesses are guilty of an ad hoc approach to succession for HR roles.

Talent Mapping and Succession Planning

There’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to succession planning. Often it’s done informally and handled in a somewhat haphazard manner. There might only be verbal agreements or plans made, but nothing is formally mapped out either in performance reviews or at other times of the year. Succession planning is an ongoing process to ensure that the talent pool never dries up, which also forms a critical part of a talent strategy that ensures employees remain engaged.

Employees feel motivated when they see opportunities and growth!

Succession planning is about proactive talent sourcing, regardless of whether that talent is sourced externally or internally. If it involves going to the external market for talent, the link to effective recruitment is paramount. Proactive succession planning really leaves the organisation well prepared for all contingencies, whether that’s organisational redesign or other major changes. You don’t want to be without suitable replacements in the face of organisational change. If you’re looking internally, it’s about bench strength and ensuring you have replacements ready if you opt to promote someone. Externally it’s more like a courtship, building up relationships over time with key candidates/talents.

Internal career prospects

While remuneration for HR professionals remains an important element in retention, it’s not the most important factor when it comes to retaining staff. Their role and responsibilities, career prospects, the relationship with their direct manager, and the culture of their company were all ranked higher.

Salary used to be the driver for job change. However, in the challenging market we have right now, HR professionals are very cautious in their job search and will only make a move if there’s an excellent opportunity with a stable organisation. This is why enhanced career prospects and relationship with direct manager have been identified as being so critical.

While the truism that people join organisations and leave managers will probably always be cited, highlighting the eternal challenge of mismatched personalities and unpleasant bosses, there’s more that HR can do when it comes to identifying internal career prospects, even for themselves.

What goes wrong?

There are three fundamental flaws in how succession planning is currently handled by many organisations – and all are avoidable.

Internal or External?

First, there’s an unfortunate paradox at play – some management teams feel that external candidates are more exciting or more promising than internal candidates. On the other side of the coin is when there’s a great internal candidate and management sees no need to look externally. Internal moves can be particularly challenging in cases where the incumbent simply doesn’t leave. This is especially the case where baby boomers are working longer to fund retirement plans or simply don’t wish to stop working. It’s about managing expectations of successors. It’s impossible to ensure succession plans will work without fault, but we can always ensure expectations are met and communication lines are open with successors.

Past or Future?

Secondly, too many succession plans focus on past experience and not future success. If we look at top HR roles, like CHRO or regional HR directors, a lot of those internal succession plans only look at those people with similar past experience. That’s not really looking at future skills and their ability to grow. Unfortunately, looking at past experience is no guarantee of future success, so it can result in failure in the senior role.

HR’s responsibility?

Finally, succession planning is most commonly considered as HR’s responsibility, which is a mistake. It’s deemed HR’s job. It’s not a strategic imperative where other leaders get involved – that means it’s not given the priority it needs. However, we’ve seen time and time again what the results are when a key senior leader leaves and there’s no one to replace them.

Succession in flat hierarchies

There are still opportunities to develop future successors in organisations that have few levels in the hierarchy. The traditional ‘career ladder’ is being replaced by the ‘career lattice’, which allows for greater cross-departmental moves and greater opportunities to work on short- and long-term projects. Many would consider moving overseas for the right opportunity. It’s all about providing those opportunities as employers.

Broadening the career portfolio could be a way to get cut-through while still obtaining great experience. I’ve seen HR business partners and talent acquisition specialists move into other roles, like talent management, leadership and organisational development roles – all of which are currently in demand in the Asia market. Those moves really change their responsibilities and portfolio. The path to senior HR roles is usually best handled by those who have had 15–20 years acquiring different skills and holding different responsibilities, rather than “rank and file generalists. Those who have spent time in multiple HR specialist roles tend to know what the team is doing and are better advisers to the business.

Looking ahead

Despite modest labour demand, there are positive signs for HR in the region, and Frazer Jones anticipates demand within HR will continue to increase into 2018. As more job opportunities arise for HR professionals, the onus will be on HR leaders to retain their team members. Today, salary data is easily accessed, which means competitors within the same industry or even different industries are able to match the salary. The only option is to be one step ahead when it comes to career opportunities, and also offer what has been proven to attract and retain employees. On that front, we’ll see a stronger emphasis placed on the total employee value proposition and what we refer to as ADR [Attraction, Development, Retention] ideology.


  1.  More stringent hiring processes to identify strong talents and a focus on culture and personality fit
  2. High emphasis on the total employee value proposition: ADR ideology (Attraction, Development, Retention)
  3. Being a more inclusive employer; diversity in the workplace, advocating for more female leadership, culture building, pro-family policies. (Across the region, approximately 60% of senior HR leadership roles are represented by females)
  4. Stronger demand for HR professionals who are business-savvy and have a strong affinity with and understanding of their businesses across Asia (particularly professionals who have dealt with HR issues in neighbouring countries, emerging markets and China)

A variation of this article was originally published in Human Resources Director (HRD) in September 2017

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