It’s the beginning of another year, and many of us are looking forward. But many small-business owners aren't looking far enough forward—they don't want to deal with the day when someone else will take over their companies.
An important part of long-term success is developing your top talent so they can eventually replace you and other key players. Succession planning doesn’t have to be painful. After all, your organization is evolving, and you don’t want all the great progress you’ve made to be undermined due to an unplanned departure.
Along with Tim Kuppler, founder of consultancy The Culture Advantage and author of the ebook Building a Performance Culture, I offer this basic blueprint for succession planning that can be implemented by organizations of any size.
Track Potential Successors
Identify potential leaders on your team by reviewing 360-degree survey feedback, performance reviews and personality and strengths assessments. Ensure that your selections reflect your organization’s ideal culture and that they will keep things moving in the right direction. Keep tabs on where potential successors are headed by noting key development actions, resources and timeframes. Organize everything with a grid that makes it easy to compare one candidate to another.
Leverage Your Team
Gather your current leaders together to provide input on the most critical competencies, skills and attributes of successors. Set aside time for meetings where succession planning is the only focus. Devise a rating scale so potential candidates and supporting documentation can be reviewed objectively. Note that open discussion may bring out political sensitivities, especially if family members are involved.
Great leaders are created, not born. Make sure potential successors, especially those who are new supervisors, have access to general management training so they “get it right the first time.” Mentoring programs are also beneficial for providing extra coaching to accelerate learning. Give employees options for potential mentors instead of making assignments where fit or trust issues could exist. Make sure mentorship is a two-way street. Your current leaders can learn a lot from the questions and approaches raised by potential successors.
Communicate With Your High-Potentials
While it’s certainly not wise to promise anything, successors should know what they’re being groomed for and why you're encouraging development in specific areas. Tapping someone to be a successor should not come out of left field. Plus, people always like to know that they’re doing a good job, so letting high-potentials know how much you appreciate and value them as the future of the organization is likely to increase morale and reduce attrition.
Give your high-potentials projects in different areas, where they have a chance to influence and collaborate with people they don’t control from a reporting standpoint. Challenge them with difficult goals and see how they manage the stress. Move people around to assess their ability to cope with new situations in which they don’t have a deep bench of expertise. As time goes by, you’ll grow more confident that they can handle more strategic, big picture management roles.
Have an Emergency Plan
Succession planning should be more than theoretical. Lay out a step-by-step, disciplined approach to agreeing to and training successors quickly and efficiently should an immediate need arise. While a non-existent transition period is not ideal, sometimes things happen. You want to be prepared and able to proceed without too much disruption to the business.
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Alexandra Levit is a former nationally syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.