Sir Alex Ferguson's departure shows employers need game plan for succession

Sir Alex Ferguson's departure shows employers need game plan for succession


Author: Louise Randall

When a key employee leaves, even on friendly terms, employers can find themselves facing difficult practical and legal issues over who to replace them with. How can employers manage succession in an orderly way?

Football focus

The football world was rocked twice this week. Firstly, by the announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement from Manchester United after 26 years at the helm as manager. The question on everyone's lips was, who on earth was going to step into the great man's shoes? The second shock was the answer to that question which turned out to be David Moyes, Everton FC's manager for 11 years; an appointment based apparently on Sir Alex's recommendation. So, while Manchester United have potentially solved the tricky issue of succession, Everton is left looking for its own replacement manager.

Wider application

These headlines are a timely reminder for all employers - particularly those in specialist areas or niche markets - that when a key employee leaves, although leaving their position unfilled is not a relaistic business option, replacing them, particuarly at short notice, can be a very costly exercise.

Filling senior positions may involve searching for replacements from a relatively small pool and persuading a good candidate to "jump ship" from another organisation could result in litigation over the enforcement of their existing restrictive covenants.

Sir Alex is 71 and however much the fans, players and club did not want to face up to it, it is unsurprising he did not want to carry on indefinately. Most employees will eventually want to "call it a day" and significantly reduce their workload, if not retire altogether.

A combination of realistic succession planning, nurturing internal talent and effective retention mechanisms can help other employers avoid the same dilemma.

A seller's market?

Even in today's difficult economic climate talent will always be in demand. It is worth remembering that if an employer considers an employee desirable enough to recruit in the first place, competitors are also likely to consider that employee a valuable and potential asset for their business. Retaining staff and protecting talent is an ongoing battle for all employers. So what can employers do to maintain talent and ensure they are not "ambushed" by the sudden resignation of a pivotal employee (whether on retirement or otherwise)?

Tips for employers

  • Ensure that your employees are signed up to well drafted restrictive covenants and confidentiality provisions. Keep these under review to ensure they retain the best chance of being enforceable.
  • Ensure you continue to offer an attractive package to staff which includes not only a competitive salary but tax efficient and attractive benefits, including salary sacrifice schemes for childcare vouchers and pensions and flexible benefits.
  • Regularly benchmark the package of existing staff against your sector and competitors.
  • Do your employees strive for work life balance or something else and if so, are you giving it to them? Keep communicating with your staff so you understand where they are and they feel engaged with the organisation.
  • In critical/senior roles make sure you have a realistic succession plan in place. Remember, however, that all employees are protected against discrimination on the grounds of age so make sure this is handled sensitively.
  • Set up your own talent development program to find and nurture the leaders of tomorrow.
  • Make your staff feel valued with rewards, incentives and recognition programs - this needen't be costly, an acknowldegement of a job well done is all most are looking for.
  • Ensure there is the right culture in your workplace: diversity, equality and fair treatment, zero tolerance of bullying and all treated with respect.


Given what has been playing out on the footbal pitch this week, now would be a good time for all employers to take a look at their retention strategies and policies and start planning for the future.