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7 Succession Planning Best Practices

Every company should have some succession planning in place right now. Unfortunately most organizations have short list of potential candidates placed in some obscure file and that’s the extent of the efforts made in this area. Most of the time that list is even out of date. When a replacement is then needed, the company winds up scrambling around to find a candidate. They’ll hire consultants that are overpaid to underperform.

The end result is an inability to find the right person at the right time. That’s why these succession planning best practices are important to implement right now.

1. Get everyone involved with the process.

Succession planning isn’t an HR responsibility. It isn’t a Board responsibility. The CEO shouldn’t be having to personally groom their successor. This is a company-wide responsibility that requires consistent feedback, lots of questions, and accountability above everything else.

2. Start the interviews right now.

Finding the right successor can be difficult and time consuming, which means the time is right now to start the interview process. Many organizations limit themselves to the executive team or senior management to determine who should be the next in line. That’s a mistake. Sometimes the best talent is still rising up in the ranks. Cast a wider net, take a look at all of the internal talent that exists, and then start making a decision.

3. Make sure the succession planning process is in line with the overall mission.

Succession planning needs to fit in with the goals the company has. If there’s a 5 year building plan in place, then it doesn’t make sense to bring in a successor that has no company building experience. It’s more important to find the right successor than it is to find a qualified candidate. If you need someone who can guide a company through financial turmoil, don’t bring in someone who spends money to make money. Bring in someone who creates tight budgets and sticks to them.

4. Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance.

An employee might have been able to save a company $100k on their second day of employment in the past, but there’s no guarantee that they can do the same thing when they take a seat behind the desk of the CEO. Expecting a past result to reflect a future result is a lot like trying to count cards in an 8 deck boot while playing Blackjack. It might pay off, but the odds aren’t in your favor.

5. Establish a transition time that makes sense.

There are many different dynamics that come into place when a succession plan must be implemented. Emotions are going to be running high. There will be a lot of political posturing within the organization. Sometimes irrational decisions will be made. The bottom line is this: it takes about 6 months for someone to settle into a new position and then 6 months for them to get good at it. Allow for enough time to transition, but don’t allow too much. If no progress is being made after 1 year, it might be time to implement another succession plan.

6. Be transparent about the entire process.

Many organizations attempt to keep their plans of succession under lock and key. On the surface, the logic of doing so seems pretty sound. Knowing who will replace the CEO or other executive team member can create internal jealously. With a transparent interviewing and selection process, those who have problems with the decisions will leave before they can cause trouble or they can be forced out because they start causing trouble right away. In return, there will be fewer obstacles standing in the way of the succession plan.

7. Take it seriously.

Succession planning that is done in a half-hearted way is going to lower morale instead of raise it. Doing it just for the sake of doing it is useless. If time is spent now locating and then developing the future leadership of the organization, then one day the transition will be seamless and the company will continue on without hesitation. Without time and resources being spent on succession planning, the transitional period will be unstable at best and potentially destroy the company in the worst case scenario.

Succession planning is important for businesses big and small. Use these best practices to start your own search and you may find that the next great leader is just right down the hall.

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