I recently read an interesting article in the Globe & Mail, that got me thinking about succession planning, and more specifically, how few companies really have a clear succession plan in place. Do you?
It is surprising to me, after all these years, to still run into people in our industry who tell horror stories of how challenged they are by a recent departure at the Executive or Department Head level.
The crux of the story is usually centred around the fact that some man or woman has given their notice, or perhaps been terminated, and as a result, people have suddenly realized that not only do they not have a successor in mind to quickly fill the void, they don’t know half of what this person was actually doing on a day-to-day basis.
Then, in a state of panic, with a dash of denial tossed in, they ask the departing Manager to show some underling about his or her job before they leave, in the hope that if this person shows someone else what he or she does on a day-to-day basis, it may not be necessary for the Division Head to have to roll up his or her sleeves and pick up the slack.
This process never ends well, as ultimately, the assigned underling ends up covering the departing Manager’s job for anywhere from days to months, during which time the job is posted within the company, and for some inexplicable reason, HR and/or the GM are surprised when the underling applies to permanently fill the vacancy.
What did you expect? He/she has been doing the job, or so they think, for the last several months, and usually not having heard anything to the contrary, they believe they are doing an excellent job. They don’t know if there are other duties that would normally be covered by the Manager, that they may not be doing, or, any other particulars about the job, specifically.
Why? Because no one has told them. They were just happy that the main job duties were being covered, and no one else more senior had to pick up the slack.
What can you do to avoid this problem?
Ensure that you have a detailed succession plan in place, that covers all of your Managers and Executive level positions, and then, don’t write it and put it on a shelf never to be looked at again, until that fateful day.
Review it, as a Leadership Team, not less than quarterly, and, make it a priority with all of the Managers, tied to their annual performance review, which is presumably tied to their annual goals.
Have one specific goal that requires EVERY Manager to be actively identifying and then training their successor.
This will ensure that it is a priority.
I would also suggest that there is value in identifying core training that you want ALL of these potential successors to receive PRIOR to any advancement. I have seen far too many Managers either over-promoted, or, put into positions without the proper foundation to ensure their success.
This is your business, don’t you want to know that it is always being managed in a consistent manner to ensure that you do not suffer the consequences of an unexpected departure. Be prepared.
Remember, people don't plan to fail, but they do fail to plan.