Who’s next in line? Always know how to replace yourself

By Michael Overell - Jun. 7, 2012
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succession planning, leadership, management, business growthWho are the future leaders in your business?

Is there someone you would feel comfortable handing over the reins to, or would you need to look externally?

Succession planning is an important business strategy. Identifying those within your organisation who you feel have the potential to assume key roles and then grooming them to fill those roles is vital for the future success of your business.

A candidate must be carefully selected, but not for the qualities he or she possesses that remind you of yourself when you were their age. They should be chosen on the basis of their desirable character traits and the abilities they have demonstrated in their current role that indicate they would be able to handle bigger responsibilities in the future.
Methods for spotting your potential future managers can include:

  • Trialling employees in leadership situations, where they are put in charge of a team with a project to complete;
  • Observing employees in their current positions for desirable traits such as the ability to listen, eagerness to learn, willingness to help others, self-confidence, loyalty, initiative etc; or
  • Observing how other employees relate to them, whether they are liked, respected, trusted, listened to, admired, emulated etc.

Having settled on a potential candidate, you then need to set about providing them with the skills they do not yet possess. Doing this will ensure that when the day comes and a vacancy looms, they will already be familiar with the requirements of the role and can slip easily into the shoes of their predecessor.

Ideally they would already be performing many of the functions in an assisting or team leadership capacity, much as an assistant manager knows and has performed most of the tasks associated with the manager’s role.

It’s not just about knowing how to perform the role either. It’s also about having the necessary skills and competencies to be able to bring their own personal style to the role and deal effectively with future issues the business may face that have not even been thought of yet.

The training these candidates receive should be as broad as possible, giving them hands-on knowledge of every aspect of the business, so that the decisions they make in the future will be based on a solid understanding of what the organisation needs to grow and be profitable.

Succession planning is something that needs to start early.

Waiting until the last minute not only risks the wrong person being promoted, but also means they may be promoted before they have had time to develop the necessary skills to be successful in the role.

In order to plan for succession, you need to identify:

  • the key roles that will need a suitable replacement waiting in the wings;
  • the skills and abilities those roles will require now and in the future;
  • the potential candidates who could be groomed to fill those roles; and
  • the training and development they would require to be successful.

Remember that not all succession planning involves upward mobility. Some lateral positions are often best filled by candidates on a similar level from other departments.

When you have decided on a candidate, be sure to involve them from an early stage in the succession plan, rather than providing them with training without explanation.

Telling them the plans you have for them will ensure their total commitment to the training and prevent them from looking outside the company for better advancement opportunities.

This will also help you determine whether the candidate actually wants the job. It would be a complete waste of time and resources grooming someone for a position that they had no intention of taking up.

Starting your succession plan at an early stage is the best way to achieve a smooth transition. People don’t like change, so the longer and more gradual your candidate’s transition into the role, the more accepting your employees will be of his or her eventual succession.

Time will also give the candidate the benefit of having you there to mentor them, so they can learn the intricacies of the role that you yourself have learned through experience.

Include your customers or stakeholders in the succession plan.

Depending on the nature of your business and the level of interaction you have with the general public, introducing your successor to your customers and business partners is a sensible strategy. Assure them that your successor has the ability to provide them with the same level of service as yourself. This will ensure that normal business activity is not affected by a change in leadership.

Succession planning is something every business should embark upon at the earliest opportunity.

If you haven’t done so already, start looking at your workforce for potential candidates. You may have already subconsciously identified a few standout individuals, but don’t fall into the trap of grooming a ‘mini-me’. Look for qualities that will benefit your business into the future.


Michael Overell

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