Service efficiency
Dec 22, 2023

Tips for succession planning in social care

Mark Topps discusses the importance of succession planning in social care, and shares practical tips for applying it successfully to nurture and develop talent.

Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager

Table of contents

Social care is built on contingency plans, however many of them do not contain succession planning. It’s a subject I have spoken about for several years, although it’s only just coming to the forefront within the sector.  

As we see a change in employee expectations and a move to more flexible ways of working, it is likely we will see a shift in the way that social care has to adapt. Unfortunately, due to the needs of our businesses, it is also likely to we will see some of our team members leave.  

With this in mind, succession planning is more important than ever before.

What is succession planning?

Picture this: You have someone in your team heading for retirement, and you know you have a year to plan ahead before they leave. So, you begin to ensure that someone in your team learns about the retiring person’s role and understands their tasks and responsibilities, so that when the employee retires, the team member is ready to take over.

That is succession planning.

Succession planning has a couple of components, which include:

  1. Identifying the critical positions within your organisation and developing action plans to ensure your business will continue to have the talent needed to fill those roles. It’s not about pre-selection, but instead preparation.
  2. The strategy for passing skills down from one employee or a team to another to ensure the smooth running of the organisation in the event of absence or someone retiring/leaving the organisation.

Why is succession planning in social care important?

It is vital that, as businesses, we ensure that we can run smoothly. In social care, we do this well in terms of planning for issues such as absence, flooding, loss of utilities etc, however we rarely think about our staffing and who will take over should someone leave unexpectedly.  

For example, ask yourself if you left today, or your deputy resigned on the spot, who would replace them? Do they have the skills to step up straight away? It is likely the answer is no, and this is the importance of succession planning.  

What are the benefits of succession planning in social care?

Succession planning ensures a smooth transition from one person leaving, to another taking their role which minimises disruptions to the business and the day-to-day operations.  

By identifying people, not only does it benefit the organisation, but it also aids retention, staff morale, and employee satisfaction. Succession planning can become a tool for nurturing talent as the focus is on personal development. This nurturing and development will lead your teams to stay with your organisation for longer as they will see the investment in their growth and development, and seeing a career pathway laid out for them will cement the feeling of the company being committed to their career progression.  

It is not just retention that is positively impacted, but also budgets, as retaining current staff and progressing those through the organisation can reduce the need for recruiting externally, which saves on advertisement, onboarding costs (DBS, admin time, induction training) and delays in getting someone upskilled to know the role.  

In organisations that I have worked in where succession planning is embedded, I have seen how they are able to flex and adapt to external and internal pressures more easily, as they have more staff able to undertake roles.  

During COVID, this was evident across various sectors with teams who had employees furloughed or on sick leave, with the ability to pick up and carry on compared to those who were left struggling to cover.  

9 tips for succession planning

I touched on a few components of succession planning and its benefits in social care, but here are the 9 more to consider.

1. Identification

It is important that you identify what roles and responsibilities need to be “duplicated” and learnt. Once identified, you can then begin to put together an assessment criteria so your teams know what will be expected within the additional role. These are often known as ‘success profiles.  

2. Assessment

Once you know the role and/or responsibilities that are needed, you will be able to identify and assess your current team members and ascertain if they are potential successors.  

3. Communication

This is key as always. Develop a clear communication strategy to inform employees about the organisation's succession planning initiatives.

4. Training  

You will need to set time aside to ensure people are given the time and skills to develop. This may be through 1:1 sessions, on-the-job shadowing, mentors, e-learning, face to face learning, and so on.  

5. Knowledge transfers

It is important that during training sessions there is a transfer of knowledge and best practices, however there may be some things that your teams do that only they know, and a training session may not cover this.  

I would recommend you get your teams to document all their processes and save these centrally should someone leave or be on leave so you/someone can pick it up and ensure there is no gaps. You may want to also consider facilitating cross training initiatives to ensure critical skills and knowledge are shared.  

6. Performance Reviews

These will be crucial as you will need to regularly assess the performance and progress of employees.  

7. Contingency plan

Update your contingency plan to include unexpected departures and sudden vacancies. In your plan, identify who can step into critical roles on a temporary basis if needed.

8. Technology

There are many different systems you could consider, including:

  • Talent management systems – these are great for larger organisations and can help you identify, assess, and manage potential successors.
  • Data Analytics - utilise systems such as power bi which collection and analyse data. For small providers, you may want to look at Excel spreadsheets to manually capture this data.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) – these can be used for training and developing employees, ensuring that they acquire the necessary skills and training for future roles. You can also utilise these to keep track on progress.

There is also software specifically designed for succession planning that allows organisations to create and manage succession plans more effectively. I have not had the benefit of using one of these, so please do your homework before considering one.  

9. Prepare for challenges

Like everything, there will be challenges and these may include:  

  • Resistance to change.
  • Staff feeling their roles are under threat and not wanting to share their knowledge.
  • You may be a small team which may limit who can upskill or want to upskill.  
  • Lack of technology, data and/or insights.  
  • You become short term focused and not long term – it is easy when rolling on succession planning that you may begin to focus on the short term (who needs to learn what, what training people need etc) and you also need to keep an eye on the long term planning.  
  • Lack of money – succession planning will incur a cost in the early stages, but the benefits will outweigh this long term. It is important that the person holding the purse strings see’s succession planning as a development tool and something that will aid the company in the long run.  

With ongoing changes in the industry, keep in mind succession planning is more important than ever before.

This is just a quick whistle stop tour of succession planning, but there are many other resources on the internet, including some great guides and insights available on the Skills for Care website.

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