Chance to succeed

By Jane Garcia

Both the public and private sectors need to carefully consider their plans for succession, with good tactics, a dedicated budget and senior management buy-in crucial to success, according to a workplace researcher.

The University of Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre (WRC) recently released a HR in Practice report on Succession Management, which was based on the case study experiences of organisations in both Australia and the United Kingdom.

The report’s author, Sue Bearfield, said there were several factors making succession planning a priority for many organisations: a more dynamic business environment with people more rapidly changing jobs, compounded by concerns about skills shortages in key areas and an ageing workforce.

“Organisations should be concerned about succession planning because if they don’t do something they could face the prospect of key skills and knowledge being lost, which could impair their ability to follow through with strategic plans, and deliver efficient and effective services,” she said.

“There is evidence in the literature about succession planning that organisations are looking to try and tackle these issues: not just a knee-jerk reaction to eliminating gaps but becoming much more forward thinking about looking to develop people with the organisation and having a pool of people who could fit leadership roles in the future.”

According to Ms Bearfield, talent pools were being used to create a group of ‘ready now’ leaders, and the role of ‘Talent Manager’ was becoming more common.

Succession planning had been better developed in the private sector, with some research suggesting that in the past the public sector had not always recognised its leaders were organisational assets, she said. However, the public sector is increasingly regarding succession planning as a vital strategy.

The study includes a case study of a major Australian state government department. (Government News is unable to name them in this article) which has “taken an incremental approach to succession management that is compatible with the public sector principles of merit and equity”. It wanted the process to fit culturally with its public sector values so did not undertake some traditional options for succession management, such as appointing high performing staff into stretch roles without a recruitment process.

The department instead chose to develop its own career development program (CDP) to accelerate building a pool of ‘promotion ready’ leaders, while taking care to look for the ‘diamonds in the rough’ amongst its workforce of more than 4000 people. 

Twenty-five participants each 12 months are chosen for CDP. Individual feedback is also given for unsuccessful applicants to provide additional feedback and suggestions about the results of their assessment data.

Ms Bearfield’s suggested a successful approach to succession management should:
• include a strategy that is forward thinking and about developing capability;
• engender trust and have transparency;
• have a willingness to treat people with leadership potential as a corporate resource;
• contain strategies that are a cultural fit for the organisation;
• have the right, objective criteria for selecting people for succession or talent pool;
• assess future potential as well as past performance; and
• be supported by an organisation’s senior managers and leaders.

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