By Jill Miller, research adviser at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for HR and people development

What do you look for when recruiting? A can do approach? Specialist skills? Relevant experience? Or evidence of a leader in the making?

Any business owner knows how important it is to be one step ahead of the game. Yet when it comes to a business’ most important assets - its people - all too often planning for the future is left to the last minute. However, waiting until a key employee leaves before considering ‘what next?’ can cause major disruption to your business and have a negative impact on your customers and on your bottom line.

Succession planning is important in organisations of any size, but in a small business, where success often relies on the skills and abilities of individual members of staff, it is vital. For an SME your whole approach to people, including how you hire and train, needs to support your succession plan.

For many managers, succession planning is only associated with planning who will assume a future leadership role when the incumbent moves on. However, in reality succession planning needs to be much more than this.

It should involve identifying key roles at every level of your business and considering how you would fill these positions if the current holders were to move on. Often in small businesses, individuals can be responsible for whole business functions. Failing to ensure that these skills are passed on when an employee moves on can leave a gaping hole in your business, placing your remaining staff under considerable pressure.

Therefore, when you are recruiting new staff, especially into junior roles, think about whether they have the potential to grow with your company and develop their career with you. Consider whether potential recruits are displaying behaviours that suggest they are keen to learn and see a real future with your business.

Take time to identify the attitudes you’re keen to see in a new hire, not just technical skills. Many small business owners I speak to say that it’s much easier to teach someone technical skills than it is to change their attitude and approach to work. When hiring, consider whether the person is the right fit for your company; just because they have the most relevant experience, doesn’t necessarily mean they are most suitable. If there is another candidate who is a better fit with who you are as a business, could you train them on-the-job? While it may take longer to get them up to speed in a practical sense, you will have the peace of mind of knowing they will promote your business values.

As well as looking at the skills and behaviours you need now, your business growth ambitions should also play a role in your recruitment strategy. By considering the additional roles you may need in the future, you can also identify the skills your business will need further down the line. As your business evolves, you may need more staff in a particular area, or perhaps you are hoping to specialise more in the future and require new expertise to support these plans. Therefore think about what a recruit could bring to your organisation over and above the skills of the person they’re replacing, and how flexible and keen they are to learn and develop their own role in line with business needs.

Establishing a robust succession plan that considers the current and emerging needs of your business will ensure you have the right people to support your business now and in the future.