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Talent Management Framework: succession planning

Succession planning and identifying talented individuals who can be supported and developed into critical roles is a key component of talent management. This ensures continuous service delivery, as well as providing career and development opportunities for individuals looking to progress in their careers at UHB.

The following stages are critical to effective succession planning:

  1. Identification of critical roles
  2. Identification of competencies
  3. Candidate evaluation
  4. Identifying readiness, requirements and opportunities

An integrated approach supports continued development, effective performance, and encourages personal growth. Succession plans should not be created in isolation, without the knowledge of those who are being named as successors; nor should they guarantee roles to individuals who are seeking to move. 

Identification of critical roles

While all roles are important, it's helpful to prioritise critical roles, identifying those that have the biggest impact on the Trust's strategy and on its ability to deliver a service to the targets, quality and expectation of stakeholders and ultimately patients. 

Succession planning starts with being clear on the critical knowledge, skills and behaviours (competencies) a critical role needs to have in place to deliver an effective service and achieve its objectives.

A critical role may have multiple individuals already in that role, e.g. 10 nurses in a specialty, or 20 IT developers across functions, or may have a single post holder with a unique set of skills, knowledge or experience. 

It's important to remember that all critical roles should be considered in succession planning, but may require a different focus or creative approach.

Critical roles
These roles are needed for future success of the Trust and can be determined in different ways. These roles are either strategically or operationally critical and can be at different levels. By using this method, we can develop deep and varied talent pools which can be used to prepare for a planned or unplanned future.
For leadership development
Succession planning for a critical role enables the Trust to build leadership capability. The blueprint for a job role’s succession can be made available to all relevant individuals so they can see the competencies and training required to become a potential successor.
For technical competencies
To help to build technical capability, the Trust can identify roles that require deep technical expertise and create career ladders that may not depend upon people management skills but are mainly reliant on technical competence.

Workforce planning will highlight areas influencing a critical role, e.g. as a result of retirement planning, recognised skill shortages, workforce projections and staff turnover rates.

Considerations in identifying key areas and critical roles may include the following:

  • Which roles, if left vacant, would cause major difficulties in achieving current and future deliverables or meeting patient needs?
  • Which roles, if left vacant, may create risk to, or have an impact on, individuals or patients?
  • Which roles would be difficult to fill because they require expertise and/or the current post holder(s) possesses a wealth of local knowledge?
  • Is there a current or projected skills shortage for particular roles?
  • Is the role the only one of its kind in your part of the Trust? Would it be difficult for an individual in a similar role in another area to cover this?
  • Which roles are likely to lose their current post holder in the short/medium/long term?

Identification of competencies

Competencies are the knowledge, skills and experiences required to be successful in a role or series of tasks. Competencies define how performance will be delivered as well as what will be done. 

Managers considering the competencies for a critical role should consider the technical and professional competencies specific to the role, e.g. clinical skills for a specific nursing role, or software development skills for an IT role. 

They should also capture the generic competencies needed at different levels for most roles, i.e. management, leadership, strategy or service improvement. Additional considerations may include knowledge of an area of the Trust, or an understanding of key stakeholders and their needs or of the local culture or politics which impact on the role. 

Questions you could use to establish the essential competencies for a critical role may include the following:

  • What are the most important functions, key objectives and deliverables for the role?
  • What does it take to be successful in this role (e.g. difference between high/average performer)?
  • How do I see my "ideal candidate" delivering this role today?
  • What are the unique skills required, both technically and professionally?
  • What are the relationship elements of this role? 
  • Will the role and its job purpose change in the short/medium terms?
  • If so, how will this change the competencies needed for success?
  • What are the academic or professional qualifications required for this role?

You will need to refer to the job description and person specification for each critical role, but it's also important to also consider the above questions.

Candidate evaluation

Within this step you need to assess the competencies you have identified within your critical role against the individuals to assess any gaps to determine readiness for the role(s).

Work through each critical role and the headings contained in the toolkit, inputting evidence of where the individual meets the criteria for each heading, and any gaps within. You may want to transfer the information you identified in the competency identification table in terms of the gaps into the evaluation section of the toolkit. You may find it easier to highlight these in the same colour code as the readiness chart.

The questions in the sections of the performance and potential assessment are also related to the performance and potential of individuals against a critical role. As well as considering the competency gaps, performance and potential of an individual against a critical role, you may also wish to explore the following questions to provide an overall evaluation of each individual: 

  • Consider the competencies that the individual has. Will the Trust need or value these in the next one to five years?  
  • How closely does an individual’s technical background, role, history and experience complement the competencies needed by a critical role? 
  • Does the individual demonstrate flexibility and motivation to move into a role that might be different than any that exist currently?

Remember, individuals will have different drivers for their career aspirations – you will need to take this into account when considering their "readiness".

At the start of the Talent Management Framework process, you should engage in a one-to-one discussion to explore the individual's career aspirations.

Identifying readiness, requirements and opportunities

To recap, in the first three steps you have identified internal candidates for critical roles that you need to manage your service, including the competencies required to deliver the critical roles effectively, and assessed current individuals against these.

You should now use this information to inform where you place individuals on the readiness chart within the toolkit against each critical role confirming whether they are ready now, ready soon or will be ready in the long term. It's important to define the categories of readiness for individuals to ensure development is focused appropriately. There are three categories of readiness:

Ready now
Individuals who may already be delivering the role or parts of the role as an interim solution. "Ready now" candidates could move into the role immediately, with short-term additional support, or be ready to fully fill the role within six months, with specific experience and development
Ready soon
Individuals who demonstrate high performance and potential but may be new to the Trust, lack experience in a specific area, or need time to become the "ideal candidate" in their current role or develop skills for their next move. "Ready soon" candidates expect to become "ready now" in one to three years with a structured development plan
Long-term ready
Individuals who clearly show potential, and have demonstrated excellent performance in previous roles but may be new or need time to grow in their current role. Candidates who show long-term readiness may still be developing higher-level technical or professional skills and organisational experience. Long-term readiness candidates would expect to be "ready now" in three to five years


  • there may be multiple individuals who are able to perform a critical role in your service
  • individuals identified as having readiness may have the competencies to move towards more than one critical role
  • you may wish to consider competencies an individual has developed from previous roles outside your service area

There may be occasions where there is no "ready now" or "ready soon" candidate for development towards a critical role. Factors may include the following:

  • Sudden permanent loss of a critical post holder, e.g. a key individual leaves the Trust unexpectedly
  • Unique organisational knowledge or competency is needed, and no succession plan is in place
  • Flat organisational structures where individuals have not been able to or not been encouraged to develop competencies towards future roles
  • A new role where competency requirements are different to those needed by previous post holders

Where you have no ready internal candidates for critical roles for these reasons, you may wish to explore and consider the following:

  • The time you have to establish a ready successor i.e., how long the current post holder is likely to be in the role. Do you know when they may plan to retire? Are they likely to move onto a new role in the short term?
  • Do you have long-term ready individual(s) who, with fast-tracked development support could move into the role in a shorter timeframe?
  • If so, how will you create a fast-track development plan and what resources are needed to do this effectively?
  • Are there individuals from other parts of the Trust who have transferable skills and who have expressed an interest in a particular type of role?
  • Are there individuals from partner trusts who have transferable skills and who have expressed an interest in a particular role?
  • If so, how might their move to your critical role be facilitated with their trust/line manager?
  • If external recruitment is needed, e.g. where unique skills can't be accessed through known sources, what is the likely availability of external candidates?
  • What will the timeframe be to recruit?
  • Could the role be redesigned, e.g. duties and responsibilities split into new roles that still achieve the planned deliverables?

Remember, the "stretch and develop", "high-impact contributor" and "star" sections of the talent matrix can be used to map the individuals identified as part of your candidate evaluation.

An integrated approach to the development, performance and potential of an individual, along with addressing the organisation's need to future-proof services and ensure successors, is essential.

The next step requires you to meet with the individual and work together to create a development plan. Investing time, energy and resource into the development plan will address not only the individual’s careers aspirations and development, but also help to ensure successful succession planning.

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