Plan for Business Success(ion)

The days of employees working for one company their entire career is largely in the past.  The Baby Boomers are retiring in droves.  A newfound confidence in the job market means that people are more likely to switch jobs than in recent years.  Given these factors that have led to lower tenure than in recent history, leaders must always think two steps ahead.  They must be proactive in drawing an ever-evolving blueprint for the future of their business’ leadership.

This process is known as succession planning – identifying existing employees to fill your future leadership positions and key roles.  This isn’t as simple as just observing which of your staff members exhibit those upper management-level intangibles.  Leaders rely on a comprehensive analysis to identify employees who may be a strong fit for a future role, but then they must also develop training and development programs that actually prepare those employees for a successful transition into the role.

Constructing a well-run succession planning program requires an organizational assessment of performance, potential, and the career goals of your employees.  This means that the current leaders must assess and thoroughly discuss who they believe should be next in line for certain positions, so they can all be on the same page when the time actually comes to fill a vacancy or promote an employee. You need to engage in regular communication with individuals identified for these roles, and create development plans for them which include coaching, mentoring, stretch assignments, transfer of knowledge, and training.

Sometimes, there is not one obvious choice to fill a position because many employees have proven themselves to be qualified for a future role.  It’s never a bad thing to have to pick from a number of promising prospects, but you also don’t want to make a “gut” choice. You should keep a record of your employees’ personal achievements in their day-to-day jobs.  And, remember that this is an evolving plan that may change over time.

Once you are confident that you have identified a worthy successor, you should expose them to the rigors of their future role.  A perfect time to test out their capabilities is when one of the current leaders goes on vacation.  Don’t be afraid to have their potential replacement take on some of the vacationing manager’s responsibilities.  This will give you a real sense of how they may handle the job, as well as a way to see how they respond to the pressures of the unknown.

Succession planning shouldn’t be limited to only your senior-level leadership positions.  In addition to managerial positions, you should focus key positions within all levels of the company (especially those within product development, customer success, and others that have a direct impact to your company’s continuity).  Focusing on just upper management is counterintuitive – your well-trained future managers will be put into a very difficult spot if the lower levels have not also been properly developed.

Make sure you are thinking of the long-term success of your company by making succession planning a priority.

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