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Leadership Thought #385 – The Importance of Succession Planning

July 17, 2012

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Every business needs to pay close attention to succession planning.

Far too many organizations are dependent upon far too few people to be successful.  I often ask my clients, “What happens to your business if something happens to you?”  The answer often is less than satisfactory.  A key leadership responsibility is to mitigate risk.  One of the biggest risks you have in any company is people – starting at the top.  It may feed your ego to be critically important to your company, but it is no way to build an enduring, successful organization.  Proper succession planning ensures your business future and increases your organizational adaptability.

All leaders and managers at every level should be thinking about who succeeds them in their role.  You should take seriously the need to groom your successor as you move on to bigger and better things.  Unless you are the owner, you may also face the potential reality that there will be people beneath you in the chain of command who may pass you by one day.  Instead of resisting this dynamic, take pride in your ability to groom and mentor talented people.  If you put the interests of the company ahead of your own, the right decisions become much easier to make.

I also do not like to see organizations held hostage due to the importance of any one employee.  I understand this can be a more difficult challenge for smaller businesses and non-profits, especially where founders are concerned.  However, the challenge needs addressing.  Individuals should not hold all the cards when it comes to the fate or good of the group.

If an important function or role is in the hands of one person, what do you do if they get sick, leave to take another job, or have some other major life issue distract their attention?  There must always be a Plan B.   Moreover, whenever an employee of this caliber threatens to leave for greener pastures, I say let them.  Strive to build better bench strength the next time around.

Our job as a leader is to create interdependence not dependence.  The good news is that people usually step up if you ask them to.  Most employees want to learn and grow and take on additional responsibilities.  If you create a work environment where the only option isn’t “up or out”, individuals will stretch themselves when asked.  Just be wary about pitting people against one another and fostering a win-lose mindset.  Great teams always beat talented individuals.  Lastly, you should be constantly assessing the talents and skill sets of your employees and addressing any gaps proactively as needed.

Never forget that as a business, you are your people.  Your future is in the hands of your newest recruit and latest employee promotion.  Succession planning isn’t optional. It is critical to your long-term success.