Succession planning…possible legal issues

The key risk with succession planning is that it can be or be perceived as a system that pre-selects for key positions based on age, sex or gender. If a succession plan is not properly written, if training for management about how it works is not properly carried out, or if mis-statements are made about how the system operates or its effects, then the line between a planning system for key positions and a selection system that is closed to other employees may blur and evidence may be created that the system is a tool of discrimination.

To negate this, a succession plan should articulate reasonable non-age related and non -discriminatory justification for its existence and substance. Where companies are not secret about the plan and tell promising candidates about their selection as a retention strategy, careful consideration must be given in how to do this in a legally defensible way.

A succession plan should never become a promise of job security or a guarantee of a promotion; it should only indicate that an employees’ potential has been noted, which then has certain effects with respect to maximising skills and abilities. The essential information should be an assessment of needed abilities and skills, leadership capability, emotional intelligence or other traits and attributes an individual is deemed to have and then, to what training and development opportunities does the individual need to be ready to fill particular positions that may open at future times.

Management succession documents should not be the primary document used in key promotion situations.

Communication is critical
To be successful, your succession plan must become part of your company’s culture. Workshops should be held for managers across all levels of the organisation to understand why the company is undertaking this process, how it will work and what will be expected of them.

Information should also be provided to employees on how the succession planning process will work. Any changes to the process or programme should be communicated through written materials, and selected candidates should be spoken to on a regular basis to see if their goals are being met.

Finally, sponsors and champions of the succession planning team must continue to communicate with each other to make certain the programme is staying on track and meeting the company’s goals.

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