Succession Planning: A Guide to Preparing for the Unexpected

Succession Planning: A Guide to Preparing for the Unexpected

In the ideal world, the leaders you find to run and manage your business would stay in their positions for as long as you need them to — but in reality, this is not always the case. People leave their jobs for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes there is no warning. This can put your business in a difficult spot if you’re not prepared. That’s where succession planning comes in.

Succession planning is the process of preparing for the unexpected departure of a key employee. This can be a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be manageable. In this article, we will discuss what succession planning is and how your HR department can go about implementing it in your business.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Introduction to succession planning

So, what exactly is the concept of succession planning, and what does it look like from an HR perspective?

The term succession planning typically refers to the process of preparing potential successors for key positions within an organization. From an HR standpoint, this can involve assessing employees’ skills and abilities, as well as their readiness and willingness to take on new challenges.

Succession planning also entails creating a plan for ensuring that key roles and responsibilities will be covered in the event that an individual leaves the organization. This plan might involve:

  • Identifying and training potential successors,
  • Creating job descriptions and performance standards for key roles, or
  • Developing a system for identifying and assessing the readiness of potential successors.

In order to create an effective succession plan, HR professionals need to have a clear understanding of the organization’s business vision and strategies, as well as the competencies and skills needed to achieve these goals.

Why should HR professionals create a succession plan?

There are a number of reasons why succession planning is important for HR professionals. First, it can help ensure that organizational operations continue smoothly in the event of a key departure.

Second, succession planning can help identify and develop high-potential employees, which can be beneficial for both the individual and the organization.

Finally, succession planning can help create a culture of career development and readiness, which can encourage employees to take on new challenges and grow their skills.

a person writing on pink sticky notes

In addition to these key benefits, succession planning also:

  • Helps organizations manage risk by identifying and preparing for potential leadership gaps
  • Encourages talent development and helps retain top talent
  • Facilitates knowledge transfer and organizational learning
  • Promotes accountability and ownership of key roles and responsibilities

Clearly, there are many reasons why your company should have a succession plan in place — but how exactly should you go about creating one?

Creating your succession plan: a step-by-step guide

Let’s walk through the steps you should take in order to create a reliable and comprehensive succession plan for your business.

1. Assess your needs

The first step is to take an honest look at your business and assess what kind of gaps you have in terms of skills, experience, and leadership. Once you know where the weaknesses are, you can start thinking about who could fill those gaps.

To do this, you’ll need to create a list of key positions in your company and identify the specific skills and experience required for each role. This will help you to identify potential successors for each role.

For example, if you’re a small business and you need someone with experience in project management, you may want to consider promoting a current employee who has demonstrated strong management skills in past projects.

2. Identify your talent pool

The next step is to identify the people in your company who have the potential to fill key positions. This includes current employees, as well as external candidates who may be a good fit for your business.

You’ll need to create a profile for each potential successor, outlining their skills, experience, and qualifications. This will help you to identify any gaps in your talent pool and determine which positions need to be filled.

An employee profile might look like this:

[Employee Name]

Position: Administrative Assistant

Skills: Excellent communication and organizational skills, able to use workflow tools and other administrative software

Experience: 5 years of experience in a similar role

Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in business administration

a person taking notes on succession planning

Once every employee has a profile, note down any gaps in your talent pool and highlight potential successors for the roles you need to be filled. These should be your top talents; the employees who show promise in the specific areas you are looking for.

3. Let potential successors know

Before undertaking any further planning, it’s important to let any potential successors know that they may be in line for a promotion. This will give them time to prepare and increase the chances that they’ll be able to take on the new role successfully if it becomes available.

To do this, you’ll need to have a clear idea of who your potential successors are. You can then approach these employees individually or in groups, as appropriate, to let them know about the possibility of future promotion and discuss their readiness for such a move.

Remember that some employees may not be interested in or ready for a promotion, so it’s important to respect their wishes if they decline.

4. Create a training and development plan

Now that you know who your top talent is, it’s time to start developing them into the future leaders of your company. You can do this by creating a training and development plan that focuses on building the skills and experience they need for the roles you identified earlier.

This plan should be tailored to each individual employee, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. It should also be updated regularly to ensure that employees are constantly learning and developing the skills they need for future roles.

a person doing a presentation on succession planning

A training and development plan for a new COO, for example, might look like this:

  • Shadow the current COO for a week to learn the ropes
  • Take a course in finance and accounting
  • Read up on best practices for managing teams
  • Attend in-house professional development session
  • Meet with head of HR to assess progress

5. Assess employees’ readiness for new roles

Once your employees have been adequately trained and developed, it’s time to start assessing their readiness for new roles. This can be done by giving them assignments and tasks that are similar to the ones they’ll be expected to perform in their new roles.

You can also use performance reviews to assess employees’ readiness for new roles. This will help you identify any gaps in their skills or experience that need to be addressed.

To carry out a successful performance review, use the SMART framework:

  • Specific — be clear and concise in your observations
  • Measurable — use objective data to back up your observations
  • Achievable — make sure your goals are realistic and attainable
  • Relevant — ensure that your goals are relevant to the employee’s role and department
  • Time-bound — set a timeframe for the goal to ensure that it’s actionable

6. Trial your succession plan

Once your employees are trained and ready for the succession plan to take action when the need arises, it’s time to test it. Hold a fake emergency and see if everything goes according to plan. This will help you iron out any kinks in the process and make sure your employees are truly prepared for whatever may come their way.

To carry out your trial, create a scenario in which an employee is suddenly absent or leaves the company. Then, see if the backup can seamlessly take over without any disruption to productivity or business operations.

six people seated around a wooden table

There are a few success indicators to watch for when doing the trial run:

  • Are the employees able to complete the tasks at hand?
  • Do they feel confident in their new roles?
  • Did any problems arise during the process?

If everything goes smoothly, you can be assured that your succession plan is effective and ready to go when needed. However, if there are any kinks that need to be worked out, now is the time to do it.

Tools for creating your succession plan

How should you go about recording your succession plan? Old-fashioned pen and paper can certainly do the trick, but there are also a number of software programs that can help you get organized.

Programs like AG5 and ELMO Software’s succession module can help you track and store employee information, including contact details, position titles, skills and competencies, and training history.

AG5 offers a number of different succession planning tools, including:

  • A skills assessment tool that allows you to compare the skills and competencies of your current employees with those needed for future positions.
  • A role matrix that helps you identify which employees are best suited for specific roles within your company.
  • A position analysis that helps you track the skills and competencies needed for each position in your company.
  • A training history report that shows which employees have received training and when they received it.

Regardless of whether you use software or other means of recording your succession plan, ensure that you keep backups and secure any data that could be sensitive or confidential.

Final thoughts

Thinking about your succession plan can be daunting, but it’s an important task for any organization. By taking the time to develop a plan and put procedures in place, you can ensure that your company is prepared for any potential changes or challenges.

Succession planning doesn’t have to be complex — start by identifying your key positions and then developing a process for identifying and training potential successors. Keep your plan up-to-date, and be prepared to make changes as needed.

And, most importantly, prepare your employees for potential changes by communicating openly and honestly about the organization’s plans.

With a well-thought-out succession plan in place, you can feel confident that your company is prepared for the future!