Succession Planning for Best Results

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Sir Richard Branson

As professional loyalty continues to wane, cultivating top talent and encouraging a harmonious work environment have become imperative in maintaining a fundamental knowledge base within an organization. In fact, when executed well, succession planning can actually help executives achieve these goals and more.

The Need for Succession Planning

Executives need to be as efficient as possible with their time, which is why many question the need for succession planning. Often executives do not want to “waste time” in meetings where the return seems so far away, but, in truth, succession planning can start making a difference immediately. Long term reasons to create a succession plan include:

  • The number of people retiring is greater than the number of people entering the workforce
  • Loss of knowledge when people leave
  • Shortage of top talent at the executive level
  • Retention of existing talent

These are all great reasons to create a succession plan, but in the short term, succession planning can also:

  • Prepare an organization for unexpected vacancies
  • Provide some context for leadership to check in and keep up with their employees’ achievements, initiatives, challenges, etc.
  • Allow leadership to make changes based on business conditions and strategic goals

The basis for creating goals in succession planning includes organizational development, leadership development, valuing your workforce, and congeniality of progression. In reality, if you are training your workforce appropriately and hiring candidates you are proud to employ, succession planning will happen as a natural function of the organization. You will make your staff attractive to other companies, while keeping them challenged and excited to climb the ladder with you.

Build in Extra Time for Acclimation

Because each organization is unique, the details needed to complete certain types of succession plans will ultimately determine when the planning needs to start. Commentary in a recent Forbes article, The Secret to Succession Planning—It Starts with Leadership Development, suggests companies should plan for an extended period between the announcement of the successor and when they officially start the position, if at all possible. “In an ideal world, a succession plan is executed over a few months—long enough for the new leader to learn the ropes with the help of the predecessor. That will have less of an impact on the business and elevate the skills of the new leader,” says CEO and founder of PeopleResults, Patti Johnson. Most boards want the new person to “hit the ground running” once named, but providing the successor with some down time upfront allows them to become familiar with the role, its responsibilities, and the key individuals needed to make the transition as smooth as possible. It also provides the successor a greater chance at long-term success.

Do Not Wait Until It’s Too Late

Many boards wait until an executive starts talking about retirement to even begin discussions about succession planning. Some find themselves in a “succession planning crisis” when the executive is leaving unexpectedly. To be safe, companies should always have a plan in place for who can fill key roles, even if it’s an interim position. While having an interim never seems like an efficient idea, often it can be the best choice for keeping the company moving forward.

Once a short term plan is complete, focusing overall strategy on leadership programming will help identify which internal candidates to include in long-term succession planning. In many cases, the individual’s level of experience, knowledge, and background will also play a major role in how long it will take to “groom” him/her for a particular position.

Unfortunately, there is no standard for when to start succession planning. To start, categorize all the relevant components that will affect the plan and identify the ones which will have the biggest impact on the planning process. Once the team has a grasp on these factors, they can develop a realistic timeframe that meets their business needs and fits their organization’s culture.

For more than 15 years, Executives Unlimited has been committed to helping our clients develop their strategic executive workforce planning. For information about our services, please call us at (866) 957-4466 or contact us online today.

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