When you’re busy running your business, succession planning can often take a back seat to other, more time sensitive tasks and projects.

And while this is completely understandable, you still need to carve out some time to think about what would happen if your key leaders, decision makers, and task masters suddenly weren’t around.


What is succession planning?

Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing internal talent to fill key positions when your current leaders leave, retire, or die. And while that may sound a little intimidating, it’s not nearly as frightening as having to do it on the spot if and when something happens. And eventually, something will happen. That’s just life.

When done right, succession planning will give you peace of mind by performing several important functions:

  • Identifying employees with the skills, attitude, and desire to move into key positions should they become vacant
  • Facilitating a smooth transition if/when a key team member is unable to perform their duties or leaves unexpectedly
  • Acting as a retention tool for top performers who have been identified for professional development and potential promotion
  • Helping protect organization from having too much invested in any one individual or personality (Founder’s Syndrome)
  • Reducing some of the trauma and panic that would normally occur in situations where change happens suddenly, and potential outcomes are unknown


Hope for the best, plan for the worst

If you can’t bring yourself to plan based on the “hit by a bus” or “corporate plane crash” scenarios, try coming up with a more positive example such as the “won the lottery and moved to Hawaii” storyline. Just remember to include a version where multiple people win the lottery and move to Hawaii at the same time.

Once you are able to come to terms with the fact that any and all of your key decision makers and contributors could relinquish their duties at any moment, you can start putting together plans for how to go about replacing them if and when the need arises.


Make the investment

Succession planning isn’t something you want to rush through or do once and call it good. Don’t just check off the boxes and put your plan on a shelf. Take your time with the process. Plan carefully and involve your key leaders. And because your business is always changing, you’ll need to revisit your plan regularly to make sure it’s still relevant.

To get the most out of your succession planning, incorporate these steps into your process.


Take inventory of your current workforce

  • Who are your departmental standouts and what skills to they have to offer?
  • What training could you provide to develop or cross-train internal talent?
  • Are there any staffing gaps that need to be filled currently or in the near future?

Identify potential internal candidates

  • Let them know you value their potential and would like to help develop their talent.
  • Discuss career goals and upward mobility options to assess interest and enthusiasm.
  • Develop “bench strength” by creating development plans for identified candidates.
  • Identify multiple potential candidates for each key position to allow for flexibility.

Identify skills gaps

  • What skills do your current leaders have that aren’t replicable internally?
  • Which key positions will need to be filled with external candidates?
  • What qualities will you be looking for in potential replacements?
  • Make a list of any known contacts that could potentially be a good fit, considering specific positions, skills, and cultural fit.

Because succession planning is all about the unexpected, it makes sense not to get too mired in detailed processes or time lines. You’ll also want to resist making any specific promises regarding advancement.


Make succession planning a priority

Planning for the unexpected is an important part of your overall business strategy. Having a solid succession plan in place will allow you to:

  • Keep things running even in the midst of sudden or unpredictable change
  • Relieve some of the fear and stress associated with the unknown
  • Have a better understanding of your workforce
  • Make more informed decisions about how to invest in employee development

Creating a succession plan may not be something you’re particularly looking forward to, but once you’ve got a good one in place, you’ll all be able to breathe a little easier.

And you’ll have zero guilt when it’s time to move to Hawaii.

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