Succession Planning – The Time to Start is BEFORE You Need It!

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Have you ever stopped to think about what would happen to your company of your CEO or other top executive keeled over from a heart attack, was lost at sea during his sailing adventure vacation, or was hit by a bus crossing the street?  Or what if a key C-level player in your business was simply wooed away to another company?  What would happen to your business?  Who would take over those that key role?

The time to make those vitally important decisions is before such an event take place and succession planning is your solution.  Succession planning allows you to predetermine what steps will be taken in event of the untimely departure of a key leader from your company.

Since entrepreneurs tend to embed themselves into a business as an integral part of operations, succession planning is not a perfect or exact science, but there are some general guidelines to consider when mapping out the succession plan in your company.

There are two different ways to view succession planning strategy in your company:  The first is planning for the “emergency” situation that may arise in needing to replace an executive level leader in your company, and the second is looking at succession planning as an ongoing strategy in employee development.

In this article, we’ll start with the executive level plan and in the next one, you will discover more about creating a succession plan as a segment of your employee development.

Here are a few questions to consider as you develop your strategy for an effective executive level succession plan:


  • What are the key positions to be considered for succession planning? Crucial to your succession plan is the process of determining what roles will take priority in the plan.  Start by making a list of the priority executive level positions and base that priority list on not only the key roles, but the duties of each role and whether there are any significant “unique” skill sets held by the person currently in that role.  The less you have to rely on any person’s uniqueness, the better you can transition when the time comes. 
  • Who are your possible successors or what are the criteria for choosing those successors?  Identify the individuals currently in your organization who are prime candidates to take over leadership roles in the event of a key executive’s exit.  If you aren’t clear about specific individuals in your organization who could take over such a vital role, then start by making a list of the key skills, training and other criteria that anyone in that role would have to maintain. 
  • What training programs are in place (or will you need to put into place) to properly train candidates as successors? Now that you have become clear on the criteria for a successor in any given executive level role in your company, it should also become more clear what training programs you have available to meet the needs of your succession plan…and moreover, what holes you may have in your systems now.  You may need to fill the gap in your training programs to confidently move forward with your succession plan and assure that you will always have a qualified individual in line to take over the leadership reins. 
  • Are your key executive level processes and procedures documented? The best way to implement a smooth transition is to create “users manuals” for key positions (ultimately, ALL positions) in additional to your training programs for key candidates.  When you have your processes and procedures documented, you make it considerably easier for someone else to effectively step into a role previously held by another. 

The ultimate succession planning strategy starts from the very beginning of your employee development programs.  Succession planning doesn’t just apply to executive level positions; it is also vital to the day-to-day operational positions in your organization.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at succession planning as it relates to your overall employee development plans and programs.  


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