Planning Program Succession

Filling the Void:
How to Prepare for the Next Leadership Vacancy

Planning Career

“Our goals can only be reached through the vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

~Pablo Picasso~

Client Ron asks: Our company has got to get serious about a planning program for succession. We talk about it all the time, but only in some kind of informal, conversational way. “Oh, Janet would be a great comptroller if we could get her into a couple of training programs.” But there’s nothing in writing and no formal plan with benchmarks and milestones. I’m going to take on this challenge personally. But how do I even get started?

Coach Joel answers: Unfortunately, many companies never even think about a succession planning program until they are faced with some kind of crisis or emergency. Someone becomes ill or gets recruited by a competitor and suddenly there’s a huge hole in the organization chart and no one is available to fill it. You’re smart to shed some daylight on this issue. Here are three action steps I think you should take as soon as possible to tackle succession planning in your organization:

  • Create individual development plans
  • Start an internship program
  • Train high potentials with job rotation

1. Create individual development plans. Virtually every employee in your company should have a written career plan. This plan should include his or her core competencies, career goals, and what training programs are needed in order to get him from where he is now to where he wants to go. Be sure to include a time frame for each development activity.  Work with each person one on one, and let them develop their own plan with your guidance, rather than developing the plan yourself and dictating to them what’s to be done. Be sure they know the plan can be modified if situations or goals change.

2. Start an internship program. An internship program is an important component of succession program planning. I’m talking here about a special kind of internship, a formal growth structure for employees on the move, not an unpaid summer job for high school or college students. Let’s say, for example, that Kate, who is currently an IT supervisor, has expressed an interest in learning more about marketing. Kate can begin to spend a small percentage of her time in marketing, doing real work, such as a special project or a real problem solve. Kate should have a mentor who will support and critique her. At the same time she should be given opportunities to interact with senior marketing staff during meetings and trainings. Socializing with marketing staff outside the workplace would also help her feel comfortable and become more visible.

3. Train high potentials with job rotation. Job rotations are designed to give rising stars wide exposure to the big company picture by experiencing all phases of the company’s business. Don’t confuse job rotation with cross training, which usually takes place among employees within a department rather than throughout the company. As an important piece of your succession planning, you’ll want to set this up so that each program participant spends time assuming duties and getting hands-on experience in every department. For example, let’s say you’ve targeted Jeffrey as a potential future CFO. As a final phase in his growth plan, he might spend an entire year devoting 25% or more of his time to projects in HR, marketing, and production. Think of job rotation as an investment in leadership development that will ensure that promising young employees gain the experience they need to understand all aspects of the business.

When you set up this kind of structure, you’re doing two things. First, you’re letting your future leaders know you have confidence in them. You’re giving them an opportunity to chart their own course to a successful future. At the same time, you’re giving them a huge responsibility to rise to the occasion by devoting hard work and commitment to their own futures. Most, if not all, will rise to the occasion and you’ll sleep better at night, knowing that your company has the right people in place who can step up to the plate when the occasion demands it.

How’s your succession plan looking? Contact Joel today for some ideas you can use to whip it into shape.

Talkback: Do you have some succession planning tools that are working for you? Share your successes here.

Image courtesy of Welf Aaron / Fotolia.com

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