Who’s Next? How to Use Succession Planning Tools

By March 18, 2013April 11th, 2020Succession Planning for Management


“Why do I need succession planning? I’m very alert. I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire.”

~ Sheldon Adelson

Marshall, the CEO of a large IT firm, will turn 65 this year. Lately he’s been hearing some rather pointed comments from several of his C-level managers about “succession planning.” He’s beginning to feel rather sensitive and more than a little defensive about his age. Until one day his HR director, Maria, gives him a wake-up call that shifts his thinking.

“Look, Marshall,” Maria says. “This is not about you. It’s about the company and giving some thought to our future. There’s a book title I love—Hope Is Not a Strategy. The smart farmer hopes for sunshine but he plans for rain. That’s what we need to do—not just for your position but for all of us that our stockholders count on to keep the business running.”

After sleeping on it, Marshall gives Maria the go-ahead to come up with some tools they can use to put a succession plan in place for the company’s top-level executive and management positions. After a few weeks, she reports back to the executive committee with recommendations for a three-step process that could be implemented by almost any company.

• Evaluate your situation
• Create a talent pool
• Asses and train

1. Evaluate your situation.

First, of course, the company needs to consider the key positions in its current structure. Ask yourself, “If Joe got struck by a meteor tomorrow, what would we do?” But it doesn’t stop there. You also need to look into the future and brainstorm about new challenges and opportunities that will demand new leadership.

2. Create a talent pool.

Once you’ve isolated key present and future positions, see who’s there now and where holes or vacancies may exist. For each of these functions or roles, identify the core competencies, knowledge and skills they require. Then look throughout the company for potential superstars. Look for high performing and high potential employees, people who have the skills you need, or who may be overlooked or underutilized in their present positions.

3. Assess and train.

Start by having two-part conversations with your high potentials and high performers. The first conversation should focus on comprehensive self-development. Find out what kinds of training they might need to prepare them for moving up. This could be anything from working with an executive coach to enrolling in an MBA program. Begin a mentoring program designed to expose high potential employees to the positions they might hold in the future.

The second conversation is designed to determine what will motivate employees to stay with you. Find out about their long-range career plans. Get their perspective on the company as it is. Find out where they think it’s headed and if they want to go along for the ride. Make sure they see the big company picture and have a clear vision of their place in it.

It took several months, but Marshall and Maria, along with the company’s other C-level managers, used these tools to develop a workable plan that they could implement in the event of both planned and unplanned vacancies in key positions.

“I think the company is on a much more solid footing now,” Marshall told Maria. “I may live to be a hundred, but just in case I don’t, I’m confident that our future is in good hands.”

If your company needs to create or update its succession plan, contact Joel to find out exactly what steps you should take.

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