BusinessDay

True succession planning

Last year, a friend of mine successfully handed her 20-year-old business to a successor who was not a family member. In this environment this is rare and it was applauded widely. Many desire this but do not know how to go about it. One should not run a business, regardless of its size, without talented people ready to move into key positions when the current occupants leave. Even the most successful companies can run off a cliff if they don’t have a solid succession plan in place.

Many businesses in this environment sadly die with their founders. In many cases the children are not interested, and the founders do not know how to plan their succession

Succession planning is a strategy for identifying and developing future leaders at your company for major roles at all levels. It helps your business prepare for all contingencies by preparing high-potential workers for advancement.

Here are some tips for kick-starting the succession planning process at your company. Start with being proactive. Sometimes, if you are lucky you will know well in advance if a hard-to-replace team member is going to leave the company. For example a planned retirement. However in most instances you will be caught off-guard by a sudden and potentially disorienting employee departure. That’s why you need a plan now. Consider all the key roles on your team and answer these two questions, what is the day-to-day impact of a particular position on our company or department? If the person currently in that position left, how would that affect our operations?

The next thing to do is to pinpoint succession candidates. Once you have a handle on the ripple effect that the departure of certain employees might cause, choose team members who could potentially step into those positions. Again ask yourself, If we were to hire for this position internally, which employees would be the strongest candidates for stepping into this role? Would those candidates need training? And, if so, what type?

While the obvious successor to a role may be the person who is immediately next in line in the organizational chart, don’t discount other promising employees. Look for people who display the skills necessary to thrive in higher positions, regardless of their current title.

But don’t just assume you know how people in the company view their career goals. You may have certain team members in mind for senior management roles, but they may never even be interested in the idea once it’s presented to them. If you haven’t already, talk to these employees about how they view their professional future before making your succession choices.

Let your intended leaders know that they’re being singled out for positions of increasing importance. Establish an understanding that there are no guarantees, and the situation can change due to circumstances encountered by either the company or the succession candidates themselves.

Ideally, you have already been investing in the professional future of those you select as your succession choices. Now that preparation needs to be stepped up. Job rotation is a good way to help your candidates gain additional knowledge and experience. And connecting them with mentors can boost their abilities in the critical area of soft skills: The best leaders have strong communication skills, as well as polished interpersonal abilities, such as empathy and diplomacy.

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Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to test whether an employee has the right stuff to assume a more advanced role. Have a potential successor assume some responsibilities of a manager who’s taking a vacation. The employee will gain valuable experience and appreciate the opportunity to shine. And you can assess where that person might need some additional training and development.

Once you have identified employees as successors for critical roles in your organization, take note of any talent gaps they would leave behind if tapped. That can help you identify where to focus your next recruitment. Integrate your recruitment plan into your succession strategy.

When making a succession plan for your company, keep in mind that your own role will someday require filling. You may decide to take advantage of a new opportunity, or you want to retire from the workforce. It is important to ask yourself, which employee could step into your shoes one day, and what you can do, starting now, to help that person prepare for the transition.

The members of your workforce aren’t fixed assets and changes in your team’s line-up are inevitable. You may not always be able to predict a valued employee’s departure from the firm. But through effective succession planning, you can pave the way for the continuity so critical to your business’s future.

Another weekend has rolled up seemingly very quickly. Enjoy it. The game plan is to plan. Even at home, those children are going to leave home one day, what is the plan to downsize. What are your desires for next year? What plans are you putting in place to support those desires? Just a few thoughts for you as you go into the weekend.