Successful succession planning

Not just for top executives

Ever wanted to explore other positions within your own company — whether you’re after a promotion or perhaps a move sideways — and been told that no, you’re too valuable where you are?

In some situations succession planning can help you: if you’ve groomed a subordinate to take over your position, your superiors are less likely to be worried about replacing you. Succession planning isn’t just about replacing top executives. According to an article on Hays Personnel's website, there should be a plan to replace people in every level of the company “from top executives to key support staff”.

The article says succession planning can be the answer if you’re nervous about an underling who is ambitious and talented. Rather than fight such a person or try to make them look bad (as could often be the initial reaction), you could groom this person for your job — keeping them happy and freeing yourself up for future promotions.

The Hays article say if there is a culture of succession planning, it encourages senior management to develop leadership talent. If a company has a plan, then you’re less likely to end up desperately rushing to “plug gaps which don't take long to start coming unplugged again,” the article says.

So, how do you go about succession planning? First of all, says the Hays article, “who would you send into a senior meeting on your behalf if you were not available? Who would you choose to help you train a new recruit? These are all factors which, when answered, will help point towards which of your team you consider to be senior, responsible and trustworthy.”

The Hays article explains how to avoid other staff members thinking you’re playing favourites and how to get the person you’ve targeted to buy into the idea. It also advises that you can't avoid putting time into training your successor while doing your own job.

Despite the importance and benefits of succession planning, many organisations have no plan. The Galt Global Review says a recent survey found that 45% of companies worth over $US500 million did not have a clear succession plan.

Interestingly, the article says there is an element of “denial of mortality” in the reasons for this, adding that it “triggers the same emotions as planning a will”.

Another thought-provoking idea the article raises is about how the retiring baby boomer generation will be replaced by a smaller population of younger people. This could cause quite a talent war, so grooming the right people becomes important.

Of course, if you have someone in your organisation who can do your job it also means you can take a holiday more easily. When you come back you know issues will have been taken care of in your absence.

In CIO magazine, Bob Weir, vice president of information services at Boston’s Northeastern University, says an old boss once told him that if you are doing a good job of being a leader then the organisation shouldn’t fall apart when you’re away.

When he goes on vacation his second in command is in charge and after five years in the job he’s never been contacted while on holiday, even though staff know how to track him down.

“I vowed not to check voice mail or business email. I told them to save nothing for me. I flushed my personal email, to-do lists and such so that when I returned, there wasn't a pile waiting.”

Weir says the CIO role isn’t one that fosters a healthy lifestyle.

“Unhooking from the routine — doing something you really want and nothing you don't — is good for the soul and the business.”

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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