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Cheat Sheet

Business Succession Planning For Dummies

An organization develops a succession plan to ensure that it has qualified candidates to replace people in key positions who leave for any reason, such as retirement, illness, or taking another job. In short, a succession plan is a plan developed to help protect an organization’s future. Organizations of any size or type can develop a succession plan in six steps. But the work isn’t done when a successor has been found; part of succession planning is making sure that the successor transitions into the position as smoothly as possible — for the sake not only of the successor but also of the organization.

What Succession Planning Can Do for Your Organization

In today’s rapidly changing world — with its new technologies, new markets, and new global mobility — succession planning matters more than ever before. The success of your organization depends on the continuing productivity of people in key positions. For example, the CEO has a fund of knowledge, influences your people, and steers your organization in numerous ways. The loss of a CEO can be devastating for an organization. Having a qualified successor ready to carry on is absolutely critical, and a succession plan can help your organization identify a successor.

Of course, the CEO isn’t the only one in your organization with an important role to play. Losing people in other key positions — from your chief information officer or chief financial officer to key managers or other employees — can be equally devastating. A succession plan helps you prepare for those losses and deal with them when they occur.

When your organization has a visible succession plan:

  • It signals to your employees that you’re focused on their long-term future by protecting your organization from the havoc that unwelcome departures can create.

  • It assures clients and customers and helps preserve their confidence in your organization because they know that it will continue to provide products and/or services without interruption.

  • It helps focus people’s attention on the competencies they need to do an excellent job.

  • It puts more focus on developing talent from within your organization. People will know that with targeted education, training, and coaching, they could move into key positions. This boosts overall motivation, morale, and satisfaction in the organization.

How to Develop a Succession Plan

Whether you’re developing a succession plan for a small family business, a large nonprofit organization, an educational institution, a major corporation, or a government organization, the process boils down to six steps:

  1. Determine the type of plan.

    What concerns are stimulating you to develop your succession plan? Are you worried about unexpected departures due to illness or more competitive offers elsewhere? Are you aware of the planned departures of several key people who are scheduled to retire during the next two years? Or are you planning new strategic directions for your organization that will require new kinds of competencies for people in key positions? Clarifying your reason for developing a succession plan will help you construct a plan that truly meets your organization’s needs.

  2. Put a succession-planning team together.

    Find the right balance of people in your organization to participate in the succession-planning process. Select people who are process-oriented, effective communicators, knowledgeable about job competencies and competency development, and connected throughout your organization in ways that will help garner support for your plan.

  3. Identify the main factors that will influence your plan.

    You need to anticipate factors that may influence the success of your succession plan. For example, you may see changing trends occurring in the marketplace that will require new competencies in key positions. You may see dramatic changes in your workplace, leading to a more diverse generational and cultural workforce that require new ways of developing internal talent.

  4. Link your succession plan to your organization’s overall strategic plan.

    Your overall strategic plan tells everyone — customers and employees alike — what your organization is all about, where it’s going, and how it will get there. If your succession plan is out of sync with your overall strategic plan, your succession plan is doomed to failure from the start. You need to partner the two plans every step of the way. Your strategic plan, along with the influential factors you identified in Step 3, will enable you to identify the key positions that your plan must cover.

  5. Identify sources for successor candidates.

    Having identified the key positions to be included in your plan, develop potential candidate pools. In order to do that, you need to spell out the competencies (talents, skills, and knowledge) required for each key position.

    Then, after you’ve identified the competencies required, you’re ready to determine where you can find these individuals. They will come from two major sources: The first source is internal, namely in your own backyard. Many people in your organization likely already have the required competencies or, with some development, can acquire them. The second source is external, such as employment agencies, Internet job boards, professional association websites, colleges and universities, job fairs, and so on.

  6. Shape action plans.

    A succession plan by itself is useless. It needs to be translated into concrete action plans, with measurable goals, specified timelines, and people accountable for taking various actions or applying required processes. Plus, the implementation of your plan needs to be continuously monitored by your succession-planning team, evaluated on an ongoing basis, and adjusted for unexpected events in order to ensure its success.

How to Ensure Smooth Job Transitions

It’s not enough to simply develop a succession plan and set it into motion. In addition to monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting it as necessary, there is one very important element that must be carefully thought out: ensuring a smooth transition process for the successor. You can have the best, most qualified candidate in the world to succeed a key position, but the transition still may be rocky because you haven’t set up a process for transitioning that person.

Here are three helpful tips for ensuring a smooth transition of a successor hired from a source external to your organization:

  • Even before the transition takes place, familiarize the successor with your organization. Show the successor his or her new office, give the successor a tour of other offices, and introduce him or her to people from other areas. Provide the successor with an orientation that covers company policies and procedures, as well as company-specific passwords, acronyms, and the operation of company phones, computers, copiers, and printers.

  • Help the successor feel more at home by introducing him or her to department heads and other key people across the organization. Encourage social interactions, such as having lunches that include the successor and people with whom he or she will be working. The more welcome a successor feels, the smoother the transition will be.

  • Before the transition takes place, prepare the employees who will be interacting with the successor. Use departmental meetings to provide your employees with full information about the successor and his or her forthcoming roles and responsibilities in your organization.

Here are three more helpful tips for ensuring a smooth transition of any successor, whether selected from an external source or moved to the position from within your organization:

  • Introduce the successor to all the individuals with whom he or she will be working. Give them the chance to interact, get to know each other, and develop a level of comfort.

  • If possible, allow the successor, particularly if he or she is entering a top leadership positions, to shadow the person being replaced. This will familiarize the successor with the daily details of their new jobs, the issues and problems that typically come up, and the knowledge needed to effectively carry out the job.

  • Provide the successor with as full a debriefing as possible regarding the ins and outs of his or her new position. Depending upon the position itself, this debriefing should include information on company operations, accounting and financial data, new product development, and the strategic plan.

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