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Getting Succession Planning Right

by Carl Robinson on

This is the second part in our two-parter on succession planning. If you missed the first part last week, see below.

With all the possible de-railers when it comes to a successful succession plan, how can leaders most effectively navigate through this process? Each scenario presents its own set of challenges, and so each leader must decide what is ultimately best for their future as well as the future of the organization. There are, however, some basic principles that are necessary for every consideration, no matter what challenges may be present.

The first involves identification of the core values and competencies that you want your successor to exemplify. This may involve a level of self-assessment. Ask yourself, “what example do I currently set as a leader? What is important about our organizational culture? What do I currently do to preserve that culture, and what would I like my successor to do to uphold this standard?” Clearly, a level of aptitude is also necessary for filling your role, but skills can be learned more easily than values can be internalized. Your successor should both embody and uphold your company’s mission and vision.

Once you’ve internalized these criteria, begin to look within your organization for high potential individuals. The sooner you can begin identifying future leaders for critical roles within your organization, the stronger your leadership pipeline. In a firm with a strong focus on talent management, this identification process begins with selection and hire (and therefore, a concerted effort should be invested into the selection, hire, and training of your front line leaders). This process involves holding these high potentials to a high standard to begin grooming them for promotion. While setting stretch goals and assignments are important for all levels of the organization, they are especially so for those you deem as having strong advancement potential.

Key to all of this is a healthy level of communication. An abrupt change in regime can have ripple effects to employees, clients, and other external stakeholders, and can shake their confidence in the tenacity of the shift regardless of the attention you may have paid to selecting and grooming them for a transition. This isn’t to say that all parties need to be involved at a high level, but the succession shouldn’t come at a shock, either, least of all to the people you’ve chosen as high potential talent. A great leader can strike a healthy balance between communicating just enough so as to limit shock or unease, leave no one in the dark, and make the transition as smooth as possible.

The adage “prevention is the best cure” is particularly apt when it comes to succession planning. Start early. Being left with a departing leader and no clear successor is a dangerous place for your organization to be in. It is your responsibility as a leader to identify, select, and groom your successor, because it is your legacy that they will have to carry on. Doing so as soon as possible isn’t premature; it shows a level of concern and responsibility for your company and the people that support it.

How do you execute an effective succession plan?

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