A solid succession plan is much more than knowing who will replace your CEO upon retirement. It includes staff development, alignment to strategic goals, recruitment strategies, etc. Below is a quick look at the components in an effective succession plan and why each component belongs on the list.
Component 1: A Strategic Plan
What is it: A strategic plan consists of leadership’s long term vision for the organization and likely some mid-term goals 3 to 5 years out. Essentially, the strategic plan is leadership’s picture of a thriving organization and the route they have chosen to get there.
Why it is essential to succession planning: To get to your ideal end picture you need a leadership team in place who possess the specific knowledge, skills and talents necessary. A solid succession plan identifies what those skills, talents and knowledge are, and assures that there are staff members throughout the organization who are being coached and trained to develop them. Therefore, if a member of the leadership team should leave midstream, there are staff members ready to take on the challenge and maintain progress toward the vision.
Component 2: The Bench
What is it: The bench in an organization mirrors that of a good sports team, i.e., players who are in shape and standing by to take over seamlessly should a key player be injured. In an organization, the bench is made up of mid and lower level staff who are trained to assume positions or take over critical tasks further up the ladder in the event of either a crisis or a planned change. Similarly, staff know what positions are available to them both laterally and vertically in the organization and are encouraged to acquire the skills necessary for desired positions.
Why it is essential for succession planning: An effective bench means that you have identified and trained key “players” in the organization to take over in an emergency or a planned change. It requires that you have identified several key items:
- the critical skills and knowledge staff need to fill key positions
- the critical functions that must go on in case of a sudden loss of a key staff member
- the positions in the organization that naturally feed into others either vertically or horizontally
- the individuals in the organization who have exhibited leadership potential and/or interest
Once you know the above, establish an active leadership and talent development program in order to build in your staff the skills, leadership and knowledge necessary to take on more challenging positions when the need arises.
Component 3: Effective Human Resources
What is it: The HR side of succession planning has two main emphases, reducing turnover and improving recruitment. The two work hand in hand with each other and with the other components listed thus far.
Why it is essential to succession planning: Working to reduce turnover helps to assure that you are keeping the staff who have critical knowledge and experience, and that the folks you are actively training on your bench will be there to fill your vacant leadership roles, not those of other organizations. Improved recruitment encompasses identifying those positions or skills that are habitually difficult to fill in your organization or that require special training and certifications that can’t be completed internally, then creating a ready pool of sources to recruit from when the need arises.
Component 4: Culture
What is it: Certain elements of an organizational culture are particularly relevant to good succession planning. The first is a culture which encourages sharing skills, knowledge and information. The second is a culture that acknowledges, prepares for and responds to the human, emotional side of change and crisis.
Why it is essential to succession planning: A culture that shares information and skills is one that encourages growth in its employees and doesn’t create silos in departments or positions, where information is hoarded and protected. This enables employees to acquire the skills and knowledge to more easily take on additional responsibilities temporarily in a crisis or move into more challenging positions with less difficulty.
Culture is also important to succession planning because new leadership means change. And the emotional, “human” side of change can take a real toll on the productive, “business” side of an organization. Having a culture that recognizes and prepares for change is essential. Enacting a prepared crisis management plan lessens the impact and shortens the duration of the emotional fallout from a change in leadership, particularly a sudden, unexpected change.
Each of the 4 components above is a key piece of a thorough, complete succession plan. If you have questions on any of them or would like a free consultation on how to create a comprehensive succession plan for your organization, contact us or take our on-line assessment.
For more on succession planning, see our recent posts on how why it is important and how organizational culture impacts a succession plan. We also have a library article on the board’s critical role in succession planning for the CEO.