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Succession Planning – Even Sports Teams Need to Do It

by John Zettler

September 23, 2015

If your Rainmaking Salesperson suddenly fell ill, do you have someone who could step in and manage all their files? Has anyone else in your organization built a relationship with your client(s)? What would happen if one of your Senior Leaders was wooed away to another firm; do you have the next generation of Leaders ready to step in?

Monday, as I watched the sports highlights of the weekend’s games, I couldn’t help but think there are a few professional sports teams that got caught not thinking about Succession Planning in the same way many businesses don’t. In case you didn’t hear, there were some season altering injuries to star players over the past couple of weeks in professional sport. Just to name a few injuries there was; at least 1 or 2 ACL tears, a broken clavicle, and a severe hamstring injury, and a broken foot; each of which will have impact to the rest of their respective teams’ seasons. The problem is, after these injuries occurred, it was clear that the next generation at the respective positions were not ready and it showed. Sound familiar? It should because we do the same thing in our businesses. We don’t prepare enough for when our star players leave.

As I was driving to work thinking about how I might write this article, I remembered a conversation I had with a CEO of a Professional Services firm where I worked. He asked me this question – “John, what keeps you up at night?” It was an easy response. I told him that what kept me up at night was the fact that as he, and other key Leaders and Partners in the Firm moved towards retirement, we hadn’t paid enough attention to who would succeed them; and that the tacit knowledge they had gained over the past 25 – 30 years was at risk of leaving with them. I also thought about conversations I had with Leaders who’ve told me that they don’t need to build succession plans because they don’t plan on leaving and there wasn’t anywhere for people to move in their organization anyway.

So, what can we do to move our organizations in the right direction? What we need to do is pay attention to our People Development Strategy and we need to do it today. Before we get into what we need to do, let’s just get this out of the way – Succession Planning isn’t just about planning for what is known (maternity leaves, retirements, etc.), it’s also about planning for the unforeseen – people leaving for another position, unforeseen illness, or sudden unexpected retirement.

Strategic Planning

The following are 7 Tips on How to Build Succession Plans:

1. Develop a Success Profile – Do you know what great looks like for your key positions? No, it’s not just a job description. Develop a profile of your star performers to determine what makes them different.

2. Attract the Right People to Your Organization – Once you develop the Success Profile for respective positions, hire to that. Don’t just ask the standard behavioural questions, ask questions that will provide the information you need to determine whether the candidate has the potential to be the best.

3. Identify Key Positions for Succession – You don’t need to develop Succession Plans for every position within your organization, rather you need to determine which ones are most critical to the success of the business. For all Middle-Management Leaders out there thinking that you’re the critical position, I’m sorry to say it’s often not. I know, it was a tough pill for me to swallow too but the fact is businesses can often succeed without 1 or 2 Leaders.

4. Conduct a Review of Your Current Workforce – The easiest tool to use for this is the traditional 9-box where you force rank your workforce based on the current performance and future potential. This method is fairly simple, and can work, however it also tends to be subjective so I caution you on that. To truly conduct a review of your workforce, you need to identify key competencies that are important to your business and measure people against those. It also needs to be a collective perspective of all senior Leadership, not just of their respective Leader – again, trying to remove bias and subjectivity to the process.

5. Develop Short and Long-Term Succession Plans – The Workforce Review will yield a list of current high performers, those are people who are both high performance and potential, and it will also provide a list of high potentials, those people who may not be at full performance yet but have significant future potential. With this list in hand, determine who will be successors to which roles and you’ll want to look at this from the perspective of who’s ready now, who will be ready in a 2 – 3 years and who or what is the emergency plan?

6. Create Individual Development Plans – For each of the high performer and potentials, identify their gaps as it pertains to the position they’ve been slotted into and create a development plan to close those gaps. This could be formal training, coaching/mentoring (yes, they’re different), and/or stretch opportunities.

7. Repeat – Just because someone wasn’t in the succession plan one year, doesn’t mean they won’t be next year, and vice versa, so it’s important that you revisit your plan at least annually.

For over 15 years, we’ve been hearing about the epidemic of the Baby Boomers leaving the workforce and it hasn’t transpired the way people thought. In my opinion it’s imminent and we need to pay attention to this.

We have 3 options as to how we can tackle this:

  1. Work with Dale Carnegie – If you see the need and sense of urgency for building a Succession Program in your organization, we would love to talk and help develop a plan to sustain the health of your organization.
  2. Do Nothing – You can do what you’re doing today and hope that your business is the only one not affected by the need for Succession. The short-term cost is lower, there’s no doubt about that, but can your business accept the risk long-term?
  3. Do it Yourself – Again, you can design, develop, and implement a program on your own, but I’m guessing if you have the capacity to do that, you would have by now. Again, the cost will be lower, but the risk is that if this isn’t your top priority, it won’t get done.

Whatever you choose for your business, just don’t delay, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Best Success!

John Zettler, Director, Talent Strategy
& Development, Dale Carnegie Training®
Contact me at 905-826-7300 x 235 or jzettler@dalecarnegie.ca


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