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Building an Effective Succession Plan​: Why and How to Do It

A good succession plan ensures there will always be someone ready to step up—a talented and properly trained employee who can take over important functions in the event of planned (e.g. retirement) or unplanned (e.g. resignation) turnover. It’s often difficult to envision ever turning things over to the next generation of leadership, but critical roles are difficult to fill and all organizations need to be ready to respond to departures.

  1. Be Proactive: Avoid crisis management by creating a safety net.
    • Identify key positions and the most likely people to transition into them. These include leadership positions at any level, highly specialized roles, and positions that are key to the operation of the business.
    • Meet with employees to learn about their career interests and goals and discuss potential career paths within the organization.
    • Take inventory of employee skills and interests and match them to the organization’s future needs.
  2. Keep an Open Mind: The best successor may not be the most obvious. We received a call from a client. He was thinking about retirement and wanted to recruit a general manager he could groom to take over.
    • Our first step was to assess his key people and develop a picture of the culture and team we would be recruiting into.  In doing so, we identified not one, but two people already on his team who had exactly the qualifications we were looking for.
    • After talking with them it was clear that one in particular not only had what it took to take over, but he had been thinking about how he should approach the owner to let him know about his interest in eventually buying him out!
    • The moral of the story is that leaders are often so focused on running the business that they can miss what’s right in front of them.
  3. Communicate the Plan: Let your people know where you see them going in the future and how you’ll help them get there.
    • Have regular conversations with your target employees about the succession plan and their progress toward meeting your expectations.
    • Are your successors still engaged with the plan? The last thing you need is to come to zero hour and find out they’ve lost in interest in stepping up.
    • In our experience, taking the time to communicate about these important issues take a back seat to busy schedules. Yet, if there is a common thread through these 5 tips it is that regular communication is critical to success.
  4. Provide Training, Development, and Feedback: Help your employees get where you need them to go.
    • Enable employees to fulfill their aspirations and your needs by offering opportunities for development – job shadowing, mentoring, training, etc.
    • Take advantage of opportunities, such as vacations, to do a trial run which will allow you to learn how prepared they are to step up to the next level.
    • Help employees develop the skills, experience, and confidence to move into critical roles.
  5. Develop a Hiring Strategy: Sometimes you need fresh perspective.
    • With strong talent ready to go you should see your promotion rate increase and, along with it, employee retention and engagement.
    • While external candidates can bring a fresh perspective, internal candidates are already known to you (including their shortcomings) and have a valuable understanding of your needs and culture.
    • Take note of talent gaps and focus your recruiting efforts accordingly.

A succession plan is an investment in your company’s future. If you are making plans to retire, bear in mind you’ll need a successor who’s enthusiastic about being a leader and has the drive to extend and build on your legacy. Identifying potential future leaders and developing a succession plan builds employee engagement by making them feel valued for their contributions and eager to realize their full potential within the company.

Ready to start planning for succession?

Let STM help you make sure you have the right next generation of management in place.

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