A Practical Guide To Succession Planning

Succession planning is a term that I have heard mentioned quite a bit over my career.  I have a little confession to make, I am not really sure what the term means.  The first time I heard it, I thought it meant that I needed to ensure that someone was ready to fill my job in case I left the company.  That seemed like an odd way to spend my time.  If I prepared someone really well, then maybe I could lay myself off afterwards.

Clearly there has to be more to succession planning than just preparing for my eventual departure from the company.  Desperate to find answers, I turned to the internet.  I did not find the answers that I sought.  Instead I found some amazing examples of “experts” telling me how important succession planning is, but not offering any tangible recommendations on how to actually go about it.

Disgusted with a lack of answers, I have decided that I will take a shot at explaining exactly what a good manager should be doing to account for a succession plan.  Here is my guide to succession planning in three easy steps:

1.        Develop your team:  For each person on my team, I have sat down and thought about what skills they need to develop to prepare them for positions of greater responsibility.  I then have devised a plan on just how I can help them to develop those skills.  For example, I think several of my managers need to develop their financial acumen.  I have devoted some time each month that I can go over the department’s P&L with them.  It will take a while to get them where they need to be, but we are certainly progressing.  If you have difficulty coming up with areas of development for your team members, then try to think about tasks that you currently do that you think that they might struggle with.   If they are not good public speakers, then look for opportunities for them to speak.  Help them to develop their presentation and coach them on how to deliver it.  If they lack technical expertise, then allow them time and resources to develop their expertise.  There are hundreds of skills that they made need to develop and thousands of ways to do it.  The only trick here is to make sure that you are doing something to develop your employees.

2.       Develop your team:  This was not a typo.  After you have decided what skills your team members need to develop and drafted a plan to do so, then next step should be to ask them what skills they think that they need to develop.  I think most of us know what skills we need to develop.  Help your employees to determine a skill or two that they want to work on and draft a plan on how they can develop those skills.  Whether you agree with their assessment or not is irrelevant.  The key here it to ensure that they are doing something to develop themselves.

3.       Set Checkpoints:  Most people are capable of executing on the first two points.  They will draft beautiful development plans with every intention on executing on them, but then life will get in the way.  Things will get busy and the plan will get moved to a drawer never to see the light of day again.  We are not going to let that happen.  After you and your employees draft these development plans, you are going to schedule a quick one on one meeting to check the progress.  These meeting can be monthly and they can be very quick.  What did you have planned for the month and did it happen.  If it did, then plan out the next month.  If it did not, then what was the problem, and how can we reschedule what needs to be done.   Go ahead and schedule those meetings for the remainder of the year.

In my opinion you cannot plan for the future.  I cannot plan who is going to fill my role if I leave the company.  It may be years before I leave and they person I pick to fill my position may leave a month before me.  While you may not be able to plan for the future, you can certainly prepare for it.  By actively spending time developing all of my employees, I am preparing them for whatever opportunities may present themselves in the future.

I am not sure if I am going about succession planning correctly (I welcome your input on that) but at least I have tangible actions that benefit me, my employees and my company.

What does your company do in the way of succession planning?  What can I do better?


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