Organizations must always be prepared to deal with leadership transitions, whether sudden or carefully planned, to prevent upending its culture and negatively impacting the effectiveness of operations. The best method to ensure that an organization can function during a major leadership transition is having written, agreed upon succession plans which can be put into action immediately when needed.
Succession Planning—It’s Not Just for Governments
Succession planning has been an important feature of governments throughout history to ensure continuity should something happen to a leader. Without clear-cut succession plans in place, governments could devolve into chaos, threatening a nation’s stability.
Just like governments, organizations need to have succession plans in place to ensure that, in the event of a loss of key leaders/employees, an organization’s operations can still function effectively. Succession planning is made easier if an organization has established career paths and has identified employees best suited to follow them.
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Succession Plan Types
There are two types of succession plans, long-term and emergency:
Long-term plan: A permanent plan that establishes who will take over key leadership or unique roles within an organization should a position, regardless of circumstances, become vacant.
Emergency plan: A temporary plan to fill key leadership or unique roles within an organization should a position, regardless of circumstances, become vacant that adds responsibilities to existing employees until a permanent replacement can be found.
Organizations should create both succession plan types and review them annually to ensure their viability or to adjust if necessary. Emergency plans are especially important if internal employees aren’t yet ready to assume critical roles. It is also important that an organization consider more than one employee for each of the identified critical roles to select the best candidate.
Benefits of Succession Plans
Succession plans are important whether an organization is a large, multi-national firm or a smaller, family-owned business. In the event a key leadership or unique position becomes vacant, having a written, easily executable succession plan will prevent operational disruptions. The benefits of succession planning include:
Candidates are ready to start: With proper succession planning, candidates identified as potential replacements will be ready to assume a new role with the skills needed for the position.
Encourages junior employee development: With defined progression paths, an organization’s leaders can develop junior employees for future key leadership or unique roles.
Higher job satisfaction: Employees that understand an organization’s succession plan, with clear paths for career progression, feel less insecure. Succession planning helps with individual goal setting and provides employees with a sense of direction.
Aids in tracking progress: Succession planning helps managers track their employees’ career path progress using performance reviews. This allows managers to adjust employees’ mentoring and training when needed and identifies the upskilled and cross-trained employees ready for advancement when internal positions become available.
Cultivates and maintains organizational loyalty: Employees are more likely to remain if they know their organization has a strong culture of promoting from within. This helps maintain the stability of an organization’s culture, especially during periods of transition.
Building a Succession Plan
Identify key positions, scope, and skills: It is important to determine what roles will be a part of the succession plan, as well as the role-specific skills each requires. The number of roles will vary based on the size of the organization.
Identify potential candidates: It is important to consider who would be right for the position—being next in line doesn’t necessarily mean that person is best suited to take over a role. It is important to ask identified employees if they are interested in being considered. Explain that there are no guarantees and that the discussion is tailored only to gauge their potential interest.
Tailor professional development: When interested employee candidates have been found, it is important to tailor their professional development through training and mentoring plans. In addition to upskilling role-specific skills, additional focus needs to be placed on interpersonal and communication skills.
Continuous plan refinement: Succession plans should be reviewed annually to ensure their viability. However, if the current business landscape changes an organization or if there is a loss of employee candidates, succession plans should be reviewed again to ensure new strategies can be implemented.
Building a succession plan is one of the most important things an organization can do to maintain organizational continuity and culture. Succession plans also show employees that the organization wants to foster growth from within, which helps maintain loyalty to the organization.