Having Success in Succession Planning

March 29, 2018

This week I respond to a Breadwinner who was tasked with creating a succession plan for her organization. Here are my Top 5 Succession Planning ideas.

1. What is succession planning?

Wikipedia defines it as, “Succession Planning is a process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available. Taken narrowly, “replacement planning” for key roles is the heart of succession planning”. I agree with that definition, for the most part. Succession Planning is not an actual “plan” and it’s not just retirement. You should plan for shorter term absences like medical leave, parental leave, a sabbatical or other times when employees are gone. Succession planning is about preparation and replacement is a part of it. Don’t just plan for leaders to leave but have a plan for every level of your staff. Every person brings something vital to your team.

2. Don’t rely on just one person.

When someone leaves, there is a fear that all the institutional knowledge will disappear with them because they’re the only person that has been doing that task for so long. What is institutional knowledge? While it’s not as elusive as a succession plan, it consists of everything that has been learned or experienced by your organization. The knowledge of what your organization has gone through is there but it’s only useful if it is shared. Information needs to be spread among everyone in your organization so you’re not starting from scratch when you’re faced with turnover. You shouldn’t focus on “who” is there but focus on “how” things are getting done. People are going to come and go so put yourself in a position to learn from each experience. All employees at every level should contribute to your organization’s body of knowledge. You should merge ideas from your veteran staff with the other ideas from your newer staff. Don’t create a single point of failure so when someone leaves, you have to start all over. Create an environment of learning that encourages people to share ideas and information and make that information easily accessible and available to everyone.

3. Cross train your staff.

Staff development is crucial! You create a knowledge black hole if only one person knows how your systems or procedures work. Employees want to know that there are learning opportunities and a viable career path in their current organization instead of looking elsewhere. Retention is a major component of succession planning. You must grow your own high performers. Offer opportunities for growth internally to keep your staff interested and engaged. Recruitment is a challenging task and employees would prefer to stay and diversify their duties instead of going from one place to another looking for something new.

4. Create a flexible work environment.

Be flexible in both your words and in your deeds. Money isn’t the biggest draw to a job. People want to be able to manage their workload and meet their deadlines without being hovered over all the time. Don’t create undue stress on your employees or micromanage things about employee performance that aren’t critical parts of their job. Let them breathe. Offer flexible schedules and telework options. Someone doesn’t have to physically be in your building to produce work for you. Work can be done 24/7 from across town or across the globe. A great work environment is one that evolves with the changing needs of its workforce.

5. Don’t panic!

The predicted silver tsunami (the loss of baby boomers) is more of a light rain. The long-awaited mass exodus of retirement-age employees has been tempered by people working longer, unexpected economic downturns and other factors. While there won’t be a one-for-one replacement of baby boomers, there has been considerable automation and technological advances that don’t require the same number of employees to get things done. We are working smarter (no more typewriters or mainframes) which impacts the number of employees necessary in the workplace. Workforce planning and succession planning should also change accordingly.


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