Very often, sports management and business management professionals find themselves at similar crossroads facing similar issues. And very often, they draw inspiration from each other’s tried and tested theories and concepts. In sports, the quality and success of a team and potential to constantly achieve success is often measured by its bench strength. The same also holds true within the business sphere, whether business leaders realize it or not, and want to accept it or not.

Every business manager and leader knows and understands that good talent is hard to retain. Successful leaders are those who ensure that all possible efforts are made to keep employee attrition rates in the low single digits. The communications industry is no different, and having spent more than half of my decade-long stint in the UAE’s PR industry in a role that requires me to manage the growth and development of the organizations talent, I have had to constantly think out-of-the-box to manage attrition rates.

Having said that, in the communications industry we have a common saying — plan for the worst and hope for the best when creating strategic plans for clients. Ironically, the same applies internally as well. Not surprisingly, talent management is a very important process in any organization that wants to progress and grow, as it helps keep organizational attrition rates in control and ensures that employee skill sets are up-to-date. Succession planning is a critical element of the process, but often ignored or not given its due diligence.

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By definition, succession planning is a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company. Irrespective of whether recruitment is done externally or internally, identification of successors and nurturing talent as part of the process is what I would add to the textbook description.

From smoke signals and carrier pigeons, to the more evolved smartphones, emails or tools such as Trello, Slack and IFTTT, communications have historically been used for a few only, and these few kept their cards close to their chest. When the concept of communication within businesses evolved into profiling organizations and individuals, campaigning and policy lobbying among others, communications professionals performed several tasks, albeit specializing or outperforming in 1-2 tasks.

As the communications industry evolved and competition was rife, the specialist tag was worn with aplomb and hence sharing expertise and knowledge was often compared to letting one’s guard down in the ring or on the battlefield. Mentoring or training a colleague was perceived as a direct threat to the person’s own position. Fast track to 2017, and knowledge-sharing has progressed from a threat to a value-added requirement to a monetized service to a survival necessity.

Knowledge-sharing or other concepts such as capacity-building or skills transfer, or as I like to call it, succession planning in a specific and not broader sense, are key aspects of several national agendas in the region and internationally.

Unlike advertising or branding where creative thinking encompasses a majority of the work, public relations has a more balanced weightage between strategic advisory, creative thinking and tactical execution, and this is where the reservations continue to exist.

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Although improved greatly with several agencies and specialists offering training and coaching to internal and external audiences, the debate surrounding succession planning and whether it is an upward or outward move has wearied away, but not entirely. This stems from several factors like low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and uncertainty of oneself in terms of performance. Those who are confident and are giving their 100% do not fear succession planning — they in fact realize that being irreplaceable means no growth. If no one is replaceable, then no one will ever grow. Also, training someone to learn and do what you do means that the management will not have reservations about giving you different responsibilities and roles, as there is someone else who can manage those tasks.

Succession planning should be part of your own growth strategy and should not be perceived as an exit route.


Sharon Pereira Alvares is a PR Account Director at Matrix Public Relations. With nearly a decade of experience in public relations, Sharon is currently overseeing the day-to-day operations at Matrix PR, one of the oldest boutique PR firms in the UAE as PR Director.