Realistic Talent and Succession Planning

‘Succession Planning’ sounds like a nice fluffy waste of time to many SMEs with small teams and little free time, but in reality, it is even more vital for SMEs than bigger organisations.

See if this sounds familiar… The organisation has grown, Joan has been there since the start and knows how everything works, where to find everything and who to speak to.  She has been to your client’s weddings.  When she goes on holiday it takes 2 weeks of preparation just to get by, everyone counts down to when she gets back, plus somebody probably phoned her apologetically at some point anyway.  These kind of linchpins of the organisation are often behind the success of SMEs; they make stuff happen.  However, one day Joan will retire, or win the lottery, and there is a risk that the entire organisation will come crashing down behind her.

For SMEs, succession planning is about identifying these people, or just forcing yourself to admit that they exist, and planning what you can do to reduce the risk to your organisation.  It may be that you don’t have a Joan, but you do have a handful of people who are the only ones that can manage certain critical tasks.  Once identified, you can more practically consider what can be put in place to manage that situation. A Joan can never be fully replaced, but even if you can mitigate a few elements of risk, it is a worthwhile activity.

The other side of the coin is talent planning.  A fancy term for ‘who have you got and how can you keep them’.  The reality of many SMEs is that you won’t have the opportunities for structured career development; it’s all hands to deck to get done what is needed.  But in that environment a good employee can make a world of difference. Identifying opportunities to help them focus on developing particular skills, or lining them up to be better able to fill any future gaps, is therefore particularly valuable.


We have provided a template framework that you may wish to use for considering the different people you have that fall into each category, and what initial steps you may wish to take. You can download a copy on our Resources page, or drop us an email to request a version in a different format on