One of the most common mistakes any business can make is failing to plan for unexpected situations, and private healthcare businesses are no exception. Call it what you like: talent management, HR planning, it comes under many guises. But what we’re really talking about is what you plan to do when someone leaves, your business changes or you retire: succession planning.
Succession planning, taken in its most literal sense of ‘who will succeed you in retirement’, might seem like something you won’t have to worry about for many years. But what if two senior practitioners leave within weeks of each other to set up on their own? It’s rare for such a serious change to happen in a business but it’s not unheard of. The key is to make sure you have explored every possibility and, while you aim for the best, you have a plan in place that will help you overcome the worst.
Rather than a one-off task, the best succession planning is a continuous activity. It’s about far more than your retirement. It helps you make sure your business remains competitive as demand grows for high-quality, cost-effective care and that it’s a place practitioners are keen to work. Succession planning, done properly, both protects your business from sudden major changes you couldn’t possibly foresee and can even prevent them from happening in the first place.
Primary misconceptions surrounding talent management
Perhaps the most common misconception is that a swift internal promotion will solve the problem of a central member of staff resigning suddenly. While promotion can be used as part of your succession plan, communicating this to your team is essential as is ensuring everyone is on board with this plan.
In his recent white paper, Ten Key Steps to Effective Succession Planning, Professor William Rothwell at Penn State University US, prefers the term ‘succession management’ to succession planning because it suggests: ‘the active and continuous nature of the effort … for preparing people to meet an organisation’s need for talent over time.’
Rothwell advises a pre-emptive approach to succession management that encourages talent development along the way. This satisfies any potential desire for skill enhancement on an individual basis, while bringing new expertise into your practice today that can help your business grow.
It is very common to worry that staff you’ve helped to train will leave, taking their new skills with them. Of course, this can happen and it’s why having a proper plan in place is so important. But tackled properly, as part of an openly discussed career plan, further training your staff will always benefit your practice.
Offering further training to your staff can also be seen as a very attractive reason for wanting to work at your practice. Marketing is not necessarily only about making your business appeal to clients; you also want to attract the best clinicians.
Ideally, when a key practitioner leaves you could aim to have five new faces requesting an interview based on your succession and talent management plan. If each practitioner that joins your practice brings with them a raft of new clients, your training plan that attracted them in the first place starts to look like an even better idea.
Common succession planning mistakes
1 – Don’t wait until someone resigns to get your plans in place
It is far too late to commence succession planning when someone resigns. People do move on, it happens every day. Yet there is a temptation to trust that it won’t happen to you. As your business grows, this becomes an increasingly important plan because more will be at stake if a major change occurs.
The key is to make no secret of your succession plans. Share your plan with key stakeholders so that everyone’s aware of it and remember it doesn’t have to be a solemn thing. This is about making the most of your talent while they’re with you, preparing for when they leave and making your business as attractive as possible to new talent.
2 – Don’t assume everyone wants a promotion or that they have the skills to cope
Relying on arbitrary promotion is definitely a mistake. It may work; and it may not. Are you really going to leave the future of your practice down to the roll of a dice? You assume someone will welcome promotion, but they may not want to move up the ranks. Also, just because someone is competent at one level doesn’t mean they will continue to be at a higher level.
3 – Don’t try to finalise your succession plan too quickly and remember it needs to evolve
It’s much better to start simple and build as you grow than try to nail down all the details of succession planning in one hit. Stay flexible and when the time comes, be prepared to negotiate if you see a potential opportunity rather than succumb to an emotional reaction.
For example, if a key practitioner decides to start his own practice, instead of losing him altogether, you could suggest opening up a secondary practice with him in charge. This way, instead of losing his skills and potentially any clients who feel attached to him, you could actually expand your business.
4 – Don’t forget your support staff in your succession plan
Create a succession plan around each specific job role within your practice. Losing a great practice manager can be just as disruptive as losing a clinical partner.
The challenge of client loyalty and how to overcome it
Clients can easily associate their treatment with their particular practitioner rather than with your practice. If their practitioner is you, great! If it’s your partner, who has announced she’s leaving, not so great. If the client has been left completely in the hands of your partner, the chances are they will prefer to leave with her than try a new clinician.
A good way to avoid this situation is to make sure your service offers a complete, holistic client experience and always includes more than one person. For example, you could have one person to recommend pain relief practices and medication, another to manage post-treatment rehabilitation. Bringing in third party yoga or Pilates instructors can add a further dimension to your treatment plans, also helping you stand out from your competitors.
The aim is to shift client loyalty from any individual to your practice as a whole. It’s about creating a multi-faceted customer experience that can withstand the departure of any one individual and always delivers a positive impression for the client.
The importance of a clear and visible talent management plan
Avoiding a succession nightmare means planning ahead. Spreading responsibilities across several areas of the business and offering a complete client experience is key. So too, is working to retain your professional staff so that you don’t have to cope too often with them leaving.
At appraisals, ask them about their career plans. Ask if you can help support them in any further training, encourage them to attend conferences or other important events that will support their goals.
If you look after your people, your business could gain a reputation not only as a great practice for clients, but also as a great place to work.