16 November 2022

If you are a maritime leader and succession planning is not the top talking point of your people strategies, you are not alone. Yet, in an ever-changing marketplace, I am becoming a strong advocate of bringing this subject out in the open. It can be uncomfortable to think about who might take your job if you retire or your circumstances change in the future.

Who will your c-suite, your directors, and your managers be in five years, 10 years, or even 20 years?

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is when you make deliberate and continued efforts to recruit, train, develop, and retain individuals with a range of competencies, who have the potential to implement your current and future goals in your business.

It is a strategic way of making sure you have the right people in place to lead you into a better future.

The case for succession planning in maritime

The pandemic made an even bigger case for maritime businesses to plan for succession, but it isn’t just the pandemic that has made its impact.

We are seeing more Millennials and Generation Z job hopping than ever before. Losing this key talent could mean that the people you have assumed will replace your top positions in the future, may not be with your business as long as you thought.

The competitive advantage of succession planning

Whenever we are succession planning, a major focus must be put on looking at the future. In an increasingly unpredictable environment, we will need people who can adapt quickly. They will need the mindset and ability to embrace challenges and come up with creative solutions, rather than relying on what has already been done.

The pandemic was a case in point. We have seen some people’s careers prosper more than they could ever have imagined because they had the right skills to deal with it – resilience, crisis management, adaptability, initiative, and empathy to name a few.

Thinking about the future and what it may bring, plus retaining and hiring the right people to be able to deal with it is going to put your business ahead of the rest.

Anti-bias succession planning

I want to highlight a few key points about anti-bias succession planning. One of the top issues we see is ‘similar-bias’ or in more simple terms, the ‘like me’ effect.

We have all done it, we’ve seen someone in our business or are interviewing a candidate and you immediately like them because they are like you. Similar-bias succession planning is so prevalent today that we find ourselves almost unaware that we are replacing our top people with a near replica of them.

Whilst having someone who fits in with your culture and aligns with your values is always going to be a positive, what we are in danger of is stalling change and limiting diversity.

We all need to commit to diversity and inclusion. We have to ‘do it’ and not just talk about it. This isn’t just about hiring different people, it also means we might have to hire differently too.

When we look at who our future leaders are, perhaps they will be the opposite of us, with different mindsets, and styles of working and leading a team.

We should lose the fear and embrace new ideas and people – they could take us into a stronger and prosperous future.

Internal versus external succession planning

I work in recruitment, so yes, I may be seen as biased when I say that succession planning should not just come from within. However, I’m going to advocate for both sides and suggest a blended approach.

  • External succession planning

What I really mean is hiring outside of your business for your future successors. Sometimes you simply don’t have the right people in your business right now.

No one wants to panic buy a new hire – hiring people now who fit a profile you have created of what you will need in five, ten or twenty years could be exactly what you need to do.

Enabling your business to be adaptable and willing to embrace change, means that who you thought could be your future leaders last year, might just change. You need to be open to this and think about how you will deal with it.

The top positives of hiring externally include fresh ideas, diversity, creative thinking, and a new mindset. The negatives include taking risks, upsetting current employees, and making the wrong choices.

  • Internal succession planning

Choosing future leaders from within is a more traditional and perceived safe option for businesses. Looking at your current talent, and developing and training them is what you probably do best.

Let’s not just look at those people who receive great performance reviews, but let us look at those who show real potential too. It can be great when we embrace potential and not just performance.

Take some risks with new ideas your current team suggests, listen to them, and don’t just tell them how it is. Creativity is squashed when employees don’t feel like they are being listened to, let’s not risk a potential employer stealing your secret protégé.

The competencies required for future leaders may be different from the present ones. So don’t overlook any of your employees, you might just have a hidden gem there.


Final thoughts

I wanted to share an insight from the Institute for the Future (IFTF). They predict that 85% of jobs that will be done in 2030 have yet to be created. What does this mean for succession planning?

I believe strongly that as business leaders we have to continuously look outside at what is happening in the market, as well as internally at the talent that we have. What changes can we predict? What looks likely? Are we diverse enough as individuals and as a business to deal with these changes? Let’s put scenarios together. And let’s use these to help us ensure that we either already have or make good plans on how we will have the right people to embrace these changes and take us into a successful future.

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