5 Tips for Succession Planning

Succession planning should always be on an organization’s priority list, but often, it takes a back seat to immediate operational needs.  Many times, businesses put off succession planning until someone leaves, and then scramble to fill the void and hope for the best.

That ad hoc approach may have stumbled by five years ago, but today, the landscape has changed. Baby Boomers are preparing to retire en masse within the next few years, and companies who are not proactively preparing for the talent gap are at a great risk of sinking under the weight of significant knowledge and operational deficiencies.

The talent gap is a very real threat, but there are numerous other reasons why companies need a solid succession plan, and there are just as many approaches to finding effective strategies. From board-run corporations to small, family businesses, the need to sustain a business beyond its current state is universal, and while the tactics may differ, there are some core elements that apply to every situation.  Below, we have listed some tips to help guide your organization down the road to tomorrow.

Look at the Long Term – You can’t draw an effective map if you don’t know where you want to go. What is the future goal for the company, and where do you find yourself in that vision?  Do you want to retire completely, or help from a distance in a consulting role? Maybe your plan is to sell the company; will you do this alone or hire experts to help?

Identify Key Positions  – Some critical vacancies will be opened due to retirement, with a convenient expiration date attached to them. However, some roles will open unexpectedly.  Employees may take a job at another company, transfer to a different position, or leave due to a medical emergency or death.  Identify in advance which positions can be filled by hiring from outside the organization, and which require more foresight and grooming.

Identify Future Leaders  –  There are three avenues to identify tomorrow’s leaders.  The first is Role Based: What is a key position you have identified (see tip above), and who on your team do you believe is uniquely qualified to excel in that role? Matching individual strengths to specific positions may seem strategically obvious, but it can be tricky if you don’t have individual buy-in. Be sure the person you have identified feels a personal alignment with the goals and responsibilities of the specific position. The next option is an Individual Based approach. Identify that motivated, inspirational team member who seems to be a leader in waiting. Once you have identified this person, determine how you will nurture his or her development. Connect the individual with a mentor. Begin leadership coaching and training.  Prepare your future leader for the challenges ahead. The final method is referred to as a Pool Based approach. It is a more systematic, and comprises leadership development programs for a pool of qualified potential leaders. From this pool, positions may be easier to fill with internal candidates who have already been primed for advancement.

Make Solid Career Paths –  Get you team involved in the process. Whether you have identified candidates through a Role, Individual, or Pool based method, don’t keep your interest in people a secret. Get them involved in their own futures.  This involves Individual Development Plans, Leadership Development programs, coaching and mentoring. Have frequent, meaningful conversations and uncover an individual’s values, vision, mission and purpose, and align those with the organization’s.

Act Now – Succession planning isn’t just a check-box on the business’ to-do list.  It is a process that must be placed front and center. Now. Staffing changes can happen in an instant, and a company must be prepared for the unexpected.  An unexpected death or serious illness can result in either closing a business, or selling it for pennies on the dollar. Both options can have cataclysmic impacts on employees left behind.