Succession planning; skills today, for tomorrow

Succession planning is essential to ensuring effective leadership throughout the school eco-system; integral to this is having a plan that extends into the future to cope with anticipated – and unexpected – changes to personnel. We consider the core components of a succession plan and how you can ensure your school business management team is future-proof

‘Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business critical positions, either in the short- or the longterm,’ as defined by the CIPD. It’s made all the more important in schools – large and small – which are under pressure to recruit and retain, are operating – as some are – on skeleton staff, or planning a staff restructure. A succession plan will include training and development opportunities and encourage staff to gain relevant, practical experience in key areas; it will support your school’s needs and should be reviewed regularly to ensure that current and future needs are being met.

“Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to,” says Kathryn Birch, managing director at FusionHR and Staff Absence anagement
Ltd., quoting Richard Branson, something that she says is an insightful perspective to take on professional development – and, ultimately, succession planning. “Succession planning is one way in which school leaders can ensure they are making the most of their future potential – after all, recruitment costs are often higher than training and development,” she points out.

Home-grown talent

While many employers will often look outside of the school to recruit highly-skilled individuals, it can be preferable to balance this by promoting from the ‘home-grown’ talent pool. In the school setting this is particularly relevant as there is a high-degree of organisation-specific knowledge. “Some commentators believe that leaders developed from within tend to be more successful than those brought in from outside. Succession planning can help with keeping talented individuals as they are made aware of internal opportunities available to them to progress their careers.

Succession planning is, therefore, central to the internal element of talent management programmes,” says the CIPD.
Of course, succession planning programmes will look different in different settings and there are a variety of activities that are part of the process – for example, formal and informal training, development, providing work experience – but there are some core components that we will look at here. SBLs – particularly those with HR responsibilities – play an integral role in succession planning as it’s a key component of workforce planning. When considering your people strategy for the future, Kathryn advises that you start by analysing the following:

  • Your current leadership skills and capacity
  • Your future plans – identifying growth areas; consolidation;
    staff turnover rates; key projects and resources required; the
    existing skills matrix
  • Your future leadership needs.

This approach requires those responsible for succession planning to be knowledgeable about staff, as well as about how the school is likely to evolve, and the impact this might have on future needs. This, the CIPD makes clear, necessitates a close relationship, at a senior level, between those responsible for shaping the future of the organisation and those responsible for HR.

Avoiding the talent tunnel

“It’s important for employers to avoid talent tunnel vision, where the focus is purely on current skills’ needs, and to ensure they develop a good understanding of future business needs for leaders, managers and business-critical positions,” cautions the CIPD. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that you are growing the whole team – and that everyone has the opportunity for professional development.

Tracey Gray is director of support at Walbottle Campus, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and chair of trustees for the Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL). At Walbottle they
have a robust CPD programme in place that affords all staff a path for professional development. For support staff the focus is on ensuring that each member of the team has the necessary training within the field that they’re qualified in. “So, if an opportunity comes up, they’re fully trained and in a good position to apply,” Tracey explains. The school also offers leadership programmes for those who lack leadership responsibilities but are aspiring leaders and, if there isn’t a post with the preferred responsibilities open, there is the option of voluntary work that staff might be interested in. It’ all about putting people in positions in which they can grow.

Assessing performance potential

Kathryn suggests that SBLs consider carrying out a performance vs. potential assessment in order to identify ‘future stars’ within the school. “These could be administrators, teaching assistants or teachers who are already demonstrating solid performanceand have the potential to become a leader in the future,”
Kathryn says. This can be done through informal methods, such as conversations, or using more formal techniques such as a performance appraisal or competency assessment. From here, Kathryn emphasises the importance of meeting with staff members, to identify their career preferences and ambitions, and mapping these against the future needs of your school and/or trust. “Where opportunities for succession are matched, you can then start to identify CPD opportunities for these potential leaders and develop and implement a succession plan to balance their preferences with your future needs,” she continues. This is precisely the system that they have at Walbottle.
Every year staff look at their performance management and one of their targets will be linked directly to their professional development, Tracey tells us. “Staff identify areas that they’re interested in – areas that they would like to focus on – and are encouraged to identify courses that they have seen,” she adds. And, while the school might not have the budget for some of the external courses, Tracey reminds us that there are options such as apprenticeships that may provide an alternative solution to training and development. “For, example, there are members of staff we’re looking at who can be included in the school business apprenticeship – which we can use part of our levy to fund.” Tracey says that it’s about finding an appropriate route to take.

An integral part of your school’s development

There are two CPD leads at Walbottle. The teaching lead, who is an assistant head at the school and takes responsibility for teaching and learning, assesses CPD requests made by staff through the BlueSky platform. The second CPD lead will focus on support staff; again, course requests are submitted through BlueSky. All requests are assessed and approved based on the school’s development plan – which should be linked – and whether there’s a budget for the course, or it’s a free course and, finally, whether it is what  the school needs to meet its development plan.

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School development plans will often have three main areas and when it comes to CPD it’s key to link professional development at a personal level with school development. Tracey provides the following example. “This year literacy is one of our areas for development so, where a member of staff might want to train as a literacy specialist, we would look to see if it fits with the development plan – if there’s a gap – and from there decide whether this is the best use of the school’s resources.”

Succession planning is about filling the gaps seamlessly so you are not left in the lurch when people leave. Having a distributed leadership system – as Walbottle does – is a  smart way of ensuring you’re not left pedalling should someone leave. A very large secondary school, with a high turnover of staff, means that it’s important that Tracey has a body of staff that is highly-skilled – staff who can step-in if people leave – leaving no gaps. “This year our data manager left. We identified someone in the same department who had the skill set and the qualifications so we up-skilled them. They’ve attended training courses and are now developing into that role,” Tracey says. It’s a case of what Tracey terms ‘factored succession planning’; part of this, she says, is asking if you have someone at the next level who is trainable – if not, then it’s about making sure you look externally and attract the right candidate.

A learning environment is a positive environment

On top of the benefits that this brings to the school in terms of having a highly-skilled and diverse workforce, embedding this strategic level of CPD in your school is an attractive feature which is crucial for retaining and recruiting staff. It demonstrates that your school is willing to invest in its people and, importantly, there is room for growth. This is something that Tracey has noticed at Walbottle – where they have ITT (initial teacher training) students who come to the school, already impressed with the CPD offered to teachers, for example. As Branson once said…’Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’

Kathryn Birch, MD at FusionHR and Staff Absence Management Ltd., shares core components of a succession plan:

  • Consider your people strategy – assess current leadership skills and capacity and future needs, taking into account future plans.
  • Carry out a performance vs. potential assessment – identify your ‘future stars’.
  • Meet with your future stars and identify their career preferences and ambitions – mapping these against the school’s future needs.
  • Where opportunities for succession are matched, find appropriate CPD – develop and implement a succession plan to balance their preferences with your needs.

This should be done annually; the process should be transparent and communicated in you’re your talent management policy. This approach should be mirrored at trust and governance level for complete holistic and future-proof leadership.

This article featured in the March issue of Education Executive. Subscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.

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