Succession Planning – Why it matters to you

Succession planning is critical to the success of your business. Whether you’re running a large company or small, for profit or not-for-profit, at some time you’ll be glad you invested some time each year thinking about this. Don’t let it give you a headache, it’s not that difficult.

Many times people talk about succession planning like it’s an anointing process: naming the heir apparent to run the company or a division. If that’s the thought that comes to your mind, leave it behind.

Succession planning is nothing more than thinking about your talent. If you lost a key person, how would you go about replacing that person? Do you have the skills and experience among other members of your organization to fill the vacancy? What does your “bench” of talent look like? What are you doing to strengthen your bench over time?

Most organizations will consider both “workforce planning” and “succession planning.”

Workforce planning tends to focus on broader staffing needs to meet expected work requirements, however that may be defined for your organization. When will you need more people or fewer people? What skills are you going to need that you don’t currently have? Will you be losing key skills due to turnover or retirement?

Succession planning tends to focus on developing key internal people to be available to fill key leadership roles in an organization. Good planning also considers the organization’s overall talent strength needed to be agile and adaptable in a constantly changing business environment. Can you rapidly assign leadership talent to take advantage of a business opportunity you neither planned for nor anticipated? Do you have capacity and agility to be opportunistic, that key element of every good strategic plan?

So what does this have to do with effective talent management? Success planning is the key to ensuring you have the right talent, at the right time, and in the right places. It is about knowing in whom you should invest developmental opportunities. It is not about “king making.” It is ALL about building a bench of talent so that you have multiple candidates available from whom to chose when you need to fill a key slot or add a key position.

And, it allows you to become aware that you may NOT have the needed bench of talent to continue driving and expanding your business.

Here are the simple steps to succession planning:

  • Identify those with the potential to assume greater responsibility in the organization
  • Identify those who are “ready now” for their next assignment and those who have high potential and in whom you should be investing
  • Provide the right developmental experiences to those who can move into key roles

For larger companies this should be a facilitated, structured and documented internal review process. For smaller companies, it needs at least to be a thought exercise: if you lost Mary, is there someone internally who could step into her role today? If not now, is there someone who has the potential with further development? What would that further development need to be?

A final word to the wise:
don’t tell someone they are the “heir apparent” for a particular position. Tell her she is highly valued, that she is important to you, and that you want to do everything you can to support her in her career goals and development. When an opportunity arises, include her in the selection process, but first build a candidate pool of both internal and external candidates who have the skills and experience you need. Then decide.

Never make a promise of a next position to an existing employee; always look to find the best talent to meet the organization’s needs when you have the opportunity. Your commitment to your existing employees is that you will support their development and you will help them improve the skills they will need to succeed.

In our next article, we’ll discuss an important tool for assessing who’s on your bench: the 9-Block assessment tool.

For links to other articles in this series, see the introduction: Effective and Proactive Talent Management.

When employees drive your business success…
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