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4 Ways Companies Can Fix Succession Planning

Succession planning is a bit like flossing your teeth or going on a New Year’s diet – you know it is a good idea and that it can only make you healthier, but it is difficult to muster the discipline necessary to follow through on the commitment.

Most companies take a similar approach toward building a succession plan – or not building one.  The majority of organizations today lack an adequate pool of internal candidates ready to replace the executives who are slated to be promoted to the next management level or retire.  By first addressing the shortfall they have of candidates for key positions in the organization, companies can then begin to develop a comprehensive succession plan.

To stick to that New Year’s resolution of finally mapping out your organization’s successors, follow these four simple steps to get started.

  1. Find out who cares about succession planning.  If the Board, the CEO or division leaders don’t care about succession planning, don’t waste your time trying to drive a program.  If you want to get them interested, remind them of some spectacular successes (or failures) in succession planning that had a real effect on the company.  If they still aren’t interested, update your resume and start looking for a new job.
  2. Conduct a “succession audit.”  Don’t panic – this does not have to be a big deal.  For each critical position in the organization, identify two types of employees who are already on staff: those who could immediately step up into the role and those who have the right stuff for the job but need more development time.  Keep some basic metrics on how many positions have viable successors in place – and how many don’t.
  3. Engage people whom you consider successors.  Most high-potential employees discover how valuable they are to their employer when they go into their boss’s office and resign.  Make sure you let your future leaders know how you view them and what they need to develop to move forward.  Consider providing them with developmental assignments, mentors, educational experiences and coaches.
  4. Avoid the “Not Invented Here” trap.  It is virtually impossible to fill every succession need with internal candidates.  In fact, it’s not even a good idea.  Companies need diversity of experience and backgrounds to continue to function and evolve.  Take some time to get to know the stars in your industry – or your backyard.  At a minimum, have a handful of trusted search partners who understand your company and culture, and who can help fill gaps quickly with external candidates when necessary.

Here’s to having 2013 be the year you tackle your organization’s succession plan.  Who knows, maybe the motivation will even help you floss regularly and stick to that diet, too.

2 Responses

  1. Peter –

    This issue is even tougher in the nonprofit world. They seldom have resources which allow for substantial internal roles which could lead to the top role. We have done three CEO searches this year for high caliber nonprofits with no internal candidates.


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