Who will follow in your footsteps? Top tips for succession planning

Written by
Changeboard Team

13 Apr 2011

13 Apr 2011 • by Changeboard Team

How might departure affect your company?

While no one likes to dwell on dire scenarios, there are nonetheless a variety of rather ordinary events or situations that could take you away from your current job either permanently or for an extended period of time. And your departure could have far-reaching implications on your organisation.

That’s why creating a plan for your work to go on in your absence is not only a good idea, it’s essential to your department’s continued success. Reluctance on the part of many professionals to even consider the notion that they could ever be adequately “replaced” is not unusual. Though we all like to be valued for our contributions, adequately preparing others to continue without us is as important an aspect of sound management as is our day-to-day leadership.

Prepare now for future change

It’s true that identifying and grooming an up-and-coming staff member for an advanced leadership role can take many years. And while it is understandable that this effort may sometimes take a back seat to urgent matters, postponing the process of selecting a potential successor for your position indefinitely does not serve you or your company well.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter resistance when you first raise the issue of succession planning. Your colleagues may have a hard time envisioning a time when you are no longer part of the company. Remind everyone that, as department leaders, you all have the responsibility to adequately prepare for eventual change.

Build a detailed plan

Your first step is to identify and prioritise the personal and professional qualities that are essential for success in your role. Are technical or interpersonal skills most important, or should business acumen or a specific knowledge area predominate? Which is most critical: conducting effective meetings, managing projects or making persuasive presentations to internal or external clients?

Next, identify high-potential individuals who are most capable of assuming greater responsibility. This does not mean anointing a single “heir apparent” for your position, but targeting developmental activities for the most promising team members. You may already have individuals in mind, but implementing a succession plan requires more than just a vague idea of whom you might choose. A critical step is meeting with protégées to explain that you and other department leaders see potential for them pursuing more advanced responsibilities in the future.

In this way, having succession plans in place offers a secondary benefit: employee retention. Employees who recognise opportunities for advancement and continual learning on the job are more likely to remain with the department than are those lacking such incentives.

Prepare your future leaders

Professional development is a key part of any succession plan. One way to transfer important institutional knowledge is through a mentoring relationship. Once you’ve chosen the best candidates to succeed you, give them opportunities to further develop skills and leadership abilities. Be sure to include your mentees in strategy sessions, client meetings and discussions relating to the operation of the department.

While taking time to address succession planning may be understandably low on a growing list of “I-need-this-now” priorities, by committing to this critical process you can help your department make a smooth transition when the time comes for you to pursue other opportunities. Such foresight will reinforce your organisation’s ability to weather potentially disruptive circumstances and is a testament to your professionalism.