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Top tips for succession planning: Shaping the future

Succession planning is an essential part of running any service, but how many organisations in our sector actively do it? Oliver French, Project Manager for Employer Engagement at Skills for Care explores the very real need for succession planning in adult social care and says it’s as much about developing the next generation of leaders, as it is about nurturing the wealth of existing talent.

How did you arrive in your current post at work? Was it a move that you had planned and prepared for? Or was it more immediate, with some quick ‘learning on the job’ required?

However you answered the questions above, one thing is guaranteed – you won’t have forgotten how it felt to walk through the door on your first morning in a new role. The moments when we make a change, taking on more responsibility or a wider remit, are formative; they come with a mix of excitement, pride and, more often than not, a certain degree of fear.

Opportunity vs challenge

No amount of succession planning will remove that conflicting feeling of a step-up career-wise being both an opportunity and a challenge, but it will prepare someone, ensuring they have the right capabilities and skills to manage the increased responsibility, whilst supporting themselves and their teams.

Yet, for many registered managers in adult social care, it remains the case that moving into their first manager role was sudden and unplanned. For every great example of succession planning we see, there are also managers who will tell us, ‘I was not ready at all. Suddenly the buck stops with me, and I just wasn’t prepared for the shock of that.’

Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection data shows that the presence of a registered manager in a service has a direct impact on the quality of care. We also know from data produced by Skills for Care that as many as 7,000 registered managers might retire within the next 15 years, and that annual turnover (24%) and vacancy rates (12%) for registered managers are already high.

As a sector, we must make succession planning a priority. And if it’s done well, the benefits reach far beyond simply being able to answer, ‘Who’s next?’.

It isn’t all about who’s next

It would be a mistake to think of succession planning as being only about the development of your next manager or filling a gap. In fact, this can even be unhelpful. The benefits for a manager, service, organisation or owner can be much wider.

When we speak to successful managers, they talk as much (if not more) about the talents of the team around them as they do about their own experiences.

Put simply, managers need good deputies. Every manager should have the opportunity to step away from their service, whether that’s to pursue their own learning and development, meet other managers via a local Registered Manager Network, build relationships within their local community, or take a holiday.

This means having a deputy, care co-ordinator and team around them to whom they can confidently delegate. We must recognise that successful succession planning isn’t just about meeting the future needs of a service, but also plays a key role in ensuring managers have the support they need in the here and now.

Supporting the development of staff is also an important element of attracting and retaining the right staff. One manager told us, ‘Part of the reason for my move [of organisation] was to join a service where I felt I could progress further. I believe my organisation could see I wanted to progress and wanted ultimately to become a registered manager.’

Even where there isn’t a post (yet) for someone to step into, supporting their development will keep them positive and motivated.

As well as this, employers must bear in mind that talented staff will always be in high demand, so providing appropriate career development opportunities is a key part of encouraging staff to stay with your business, in turn improving standards of care. Failing to support and develop talent will disempower individuals and increase the likelihood of them leaving your service.

Taking all of this into account, perhaps the best news regarding succession planning is that supporting staff in this way doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t always involve financial investment.

Creating your succession plan

Whilst some services have a clear approach to succession planning mapped out, many don’t. Skills for Care’s Guide to developing new managers and deputies provides practical examples and templates to help employers. To begin creating a plan for your business, consider these approaches.

Identify talent

Not every future manager knows what they want to do when they join the care sector, so providing opportunities to allow people to expand their role and experience different areas of care management is a great starting point.

Whether someone progresses to a manager role in the future or not, you may find that identifying various people’s talents enables you to find the right person for an existing or new role in another area of your service.

Develop talent

Once you’ve identified the talent in your service and see someone’s potential in management, helping them to develop this talent is essential; this can be the first step towards them coming out of their comfort zone, taking on new responsibilities and widening their abilities.

Lots of the skills that deputies and managers need can be developed through informal, day-to-day, opportunities. These opportunities can be broken down into:

  • Learning from others: buddying, shadowing and mentoring.
  • Sharing expertise: creating champions for areas of work, developing others (e.g. sharing skills) and becoming a buddy.
  • Taking a lead: leading a project or management task, or taking responsibility for supervising another member of staff.
  • Growing contacts: visiting another service, networking, or chairing a meeting.

Senior management should ensure that these opportunities are available to employees who are coming up the ranks, so that they are prepared for the additional responsibility that might come with their next role.

Make use of learning programmes, standards and qualifications

When someone has demonstrated ambition, drive and potential through informal opportunities it’s time to build on their experience and complement this by encouraging them to undertake learning programmes, induction standards and qualifications.

Skills for Care has published a recommended development route for managers which sets out some of the programmes and qualifications available. This also makes links to funding available to support these.

What each of these steps represents is valuable and important in its own right. Individuals need the time to make the most of each step. With that in mind, anyone thinking about succession planning should carefully consider:

  • Planning ahead: think early about who has the potential to be a future manager and the support they need. Thinking about the process of supporting and developing someone should start long before they become a manager.
  • Raising aspirations: when you think about who has the potential to progress, don’t fall into the trap of only looking at those who tell you they want to progress. Different people will need different types of encouragement.
  • Not leaving things to chance: promoting staff based on their length of service or their achievements in an earlier role is unlikely to instantly result in them being a good manager. Even the most committed and experienced staff will need to be supported, and having a good career plan will help with this.
  • Implementing learning and development plans: Skills for Care doesn’t advocate any shortcuts for those wishing to become a registered manager. It’s not a role that you can effectively prepare for through a short course or something similar. It takes time and planning, and these should be factored into any succession plans you might make.

Seeing the whole picture

Irrespective of our own experience of coming into a role, as employers, managers and a sector we have a responsibility to think about and lead succession planning.

Far from being only about ‘Who’s next?’ or filling a gap, succession planning is also about ensuring our existing managers have the support they need; that our staff are motivated; and that we’re providing the best care we can.

Opportunities to develop staff don’t have to cost a lot (or anything) and even if someone doesn’t go on to become a manager, identifying talent and developing it provides important benefits. Succession planning is an activity no provider can afford not to do.

Oliver French is Project Manager for Employer Engagement at Skills for Care. Email: Twitter: @skillsforcare

How do you ensure your business is in the right hands for the future? What impact do you find succession planning has on staff retention? Share your experiences below, where you can also leave feedback on this article.

Find out more

Skills for Care is the membership organisation for registered managers in England. To find out more about the resources referenced in this feature, visit:

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