Does your organization have a systematic way of succession planning, or does it enter crisis mode when a key colleague leaves the company?

Look at it this way:  Dedicated time spent to effective succession planning can eliminate the cost of a vacant key role, reduced revenue, delays in planning and execution, general confusion, demoralized staff and bewilderment amongst colleagues.

If only organizations made the time for succession planning;  It is always a distant priority that can wait until next quarter, or next year.

Ask yourself this question…  If a key member of my organization (VP Finance) quit tomorrow, how quickly and effectively can I recruit the right candidate to fill this critical role and who will do this?

We count on all colleagues to deliver the objectives of the organization and meet the collective goals. To do this, we must consider what would happen if the ability to meet this mission was compromised if a key colleague departs unexpectedly. It is also important to consider succession planning for the realities of the workplace:  retirement, maternity/paternity leave, sabbaticals, long-term disability.

It’s important: Although the aspects and extent will vary from case to case, succession planning must have an active place in management discussions.  It is important because it provides business continuity, assurance, supply of qualified people, career path for employees and speed of reaction time.

There are challenges:  Effective succession planning can also be paralyzed by internal and external factors.  Small organizations may not have the depth of qualified employees to step-up and must rely on recruiting the right candidate from outside the organization.  Financial limitations in terms of salaries may have colleagues leaving for higher pay elsewhere and limit your ability to attract top talent.  Identifying who in the organization is going to champion succession planning, and ensuring buy-in by all relevant stakeholders must be established. Inadequate positioning and communication of “succession planning” within the organization can create confusion and speculation as to its true intent.

You have to consider:  When confronted with the departure of a key colleague, many issues have to be addressed.  Who will fulfill that role in the interim until a replacement is confirmed?  Should the replacement come from within the organization or external?  Have any internal candidates been identified or expressed interest in advancement?  Is there a current up-to-date role profile for the departed colleague and does it truly reflect their business activities? Does HR have the capability and capacity to drop everything and recruit a replacement or is it a 911 call to their recruitment company? These are all important questions to consider.

Where do I start?

Step 1:  Identify and chart key positions for your organization.   Think not only of the top executives but those that fulfill critical roles or would be difficult to replace.  How long can the organization survive with this position vacant?  It is also recommended to identify future roles that will be created.

Step 2: For these positions, identify if any are at risk (performance, retirement, or complexity).

Step 3:  Evaluate and identify internal colleagues that possess the skills, qualifications and motivation to be promoted.  This evaluation can be done through performance reviews and formal and informal discussions with managers and the colleague.  Identify the gaps where there are currently no internal colleagues that can be considered.

Step 4:  Make it happen.  Address training, knowledge and experience gaps for identified colleagues.  Provide exposure to positions through mentoring or shadowing programs.

Some simple tips to ensure success:  Secure managements support for the succession planning process.  Keep the plan alive by revisiting and updating it frequently.  Ensure all key positions have an updated role profile that is reflects the job.  Make the time for effective succession planning.  Ensure your executive search firm or recruiters have the heads up.

With careful planning and preparation, organizations can avoid the chaos and cost of the departed key colleague and successfully manage their successor effectively and efficiently.