In a perfect world, managers could handle day-to-day activities, plan for the week’s meetings, take care of personnel issues, and create a compelling succession plan without a problem.
Predictably, however, present-day issues often win out over planning for the future. Things come up that take precedence over preparing for the departure of a key employee. Still, personnel transitions would be a lot smoother if managers took the time to map out plans for the separation of influential staff.
Psychologically speaking, discomfort in thinking about succession plans makes sense. Such planning forces managers to think about two uncomfortable ideas: the departure of a great employee and the uncomfortable reality of change. Both are necessary components of business management, but managers are not always prepared to handle them.
A succession plan maps out a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are trained and developed to fill critical roles in the company whenever they arise. The goal is never to be unprepared when a vital position becomes available.
Don’t Have a Succession Plan? You’re Not Alone
Planning for the future of the organization by ensuring there are no staffing gaps seems like a no-brainer, but many companies fail to do just that. According to Carson Institutional Alliance, 60 percent of advisors do not have formal succession plans in place. Of those advisors who do have formal plans in place, only 7 percent have plans that are truly executable.
While succession planning can be a challenging process, managers who do not give it a try could be missing out on key benefits, including significant increases in engagement. Succession plans are not only great for the company’s future, but they also let employees know the company cares about their development.
Successful succession planning requires an organizational hierarchy that allows for fluid development. This can be a significant challenge for companies that do not hire from within or that do not have company structures that create positions with promotion in mind.
The Challenges of Making a Successful Succession Plan
Succession plans may be essential, but managers must overcome a couple of hurdles when it comes to implementation:
1. The Connection to Retirement
Succession planning is directly linked to retirement. Many employees today are staying in the workforce longer, making it difficult for employers to establish an average retirement age. Does it make sense to prepare an employee for a position that might not be vacant for another five years? Will the employee want to wait that long? These are tough questions a succession plan must ask.
2. Shorter Employee Tenures
Workers may not want to wait for years on end to be promoted. Many younger employees are spending less time at each job than their older counterparts did. How can an employer keep a worker from moving on if they cannot give the employee a clear idea of when a promotion will be available? It can also leave the company in a challenging place if a key employee departs in the middle of training and development.
3. Intentional Hiring
Succession planning requires that HR pros and recruiters not only hire for the immediate position, but also keep an eye out for skill sets that can be developed for higher-level jobs in the future. There has to be a strategy attached to every new hire, but this can be difficult to maintain if there are more immediate needs.
4. The ‘Like Me’ Bias
It’s easy for leaders to pick as their successors people who look, think, and act as they do. This can make it challenging to increase diversity in management. Leaders must make the willful choice to consider qualifications, experience, and skill sets instead of picking people who may be similar to them.
Managers may think they have more time to plan for the departure of a key employee than they actually have, or they may not want to think about the circumstances in which the employee will need replacing. Anything can happen, and there has to be a plan in place to address any gaps that may arise. It can be unsettling to think about the reasons why someone may depart their role — e.g., retirement, disability, resignation, or even death. However, these topics have to be discussed so the company can continue forward even if an unfortunate event occurs.
Succession Planning Best Practices
1. Open the Lines of Communication
Employee departure is never a pleasant topic, but managers have to consider it honestly if they are to keep the company on track. Managers should sit down with all key employees and have conversations about the importance of their positions, what their plans are, and the training someone would need to fill their roles if they were to leave.
2. Align the Succession Plan With the Company Vision
Succession planning is, in part, about crafting the company’s future image. Therefore, managers should look for people who fit within this future. Is the company planning to go public? How much is the company planning to grow revenue? What significant initiatives are on the table for the next five years? The skills needed to accomplish these goals should be a part of any training and development involved in the succession plan.
For a more comprehensive overview of the ogranization’s trajectory, track company goals and individual employee career paths within a robust HR software. The best modern HR software will include templates and project management workflows that give HR professionals and executive teams a workspace to organize their planning.
3. Invest in Training and Professional Development
Learning has to happen beyond the job. If succession planning is going to be successful, then workers have to consistently be involved in relevant training, development, and job shadowing. This will prepare them for the roles they are meant to take over eventually.
4. Have a Plan B
A promising employee who was slated to take over a position may decide to pursue an opportunity elsewhere. This event should not halt progress. Managers should always have their eye on someone else who could fill the role. Cross-train and maintain company-wide professional development opportunities so many employees can prepare to take over if needed.
5. Create a Model for Every Position
Each key position should have a model that defines the required behavior, attitude, skills, knowledge, experience, and talent — a.k.a., the BASKET. This model lets employees know both what is expected of the role and what skills they need to develop to move into the role. The BASKET can also help HR map out gaps and identify the candidates ready to take on a given role within a specified period.
Succession planning is a necessary process to ensure the continued success of an organization. Companies cannot move forward if managers are not preparing for the future. Not only can succession planning increase engagement, but it makes sure that the company does not miss a beat even if a key employee has to leave their role. It is not always going to be easy, but in the long run, the company will be better for it.