What if one of your key players:
- got a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity and left your organization?
- was in an accident?
- had a family emergency and was out for an extended period?
- God forbid, died suddenly?
- got sick and was in the hospital?
- won the lottery and said adios amigos?
This week has been a bit challenging, but nowhere near the catastrophe it could have been. My computer hard drive unexpectedly crashed. Since a majority of my work and business are contained on that hard drive, it truly could have been devastating. Fortunately, though, I was prepared with backups to a local external drive and to an online/cloud service. So, yes, it has been inconvenient, but I didn’t lose data thanks to my backup plans.
This experience got me to thinking about how, as leaders, we need to make sure that we have backups for our people, not just our data. Would you be prepared if some unforeseen event happened?
I know no one wants to think about such things, but as an executive leader, you have a responsibility to ensure that your business operations could continue if some unforeseen event like this happened. Pulling the covers over your head, burying your head in the sand, or sticking your fingers in your ears won’t help you if one of the above events occurs. (I know. I’ve tried.) Author Ryan Holliday says that we should literally engage in negative thinking. For you leaders, that might mean thinking about worst case scenarios so that you can set up contingency plans to deal with the unexpected challenges that might crop up.
Organizing a contingency plan for your people is just good business. While many think that succession planning is just the HR Director putting names in boxes on an organizational chart, it’s actually about thinking ahead and being prepared, and yes, even thinking about the worst case scenario. And BTW, succession planning isn’t just for the CEO. If you’re a leader of a division, department, or a small business, you still need to think about this and be proactive. And repeat after me: It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Steps that you can take to jump-start your succession planning:
1. Start today. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Identifying and prepping someone to step into a leadership role can take some time, but you’ll be so glad you did if the unexpected happens. Just do it.
2. Don’t go it alone. Get your leadership team, your board, and any other stakeholders involved. You’ll want their input and perspective on this.
3. Discover the skills and strengths of team members. If you’ve never taken the time to do this, the whole process will be beneficial for everyone involved. You may unearth a latent talent or strength that a team member has never put to work for your organization. Ideally, you want to have everyone working in their areas of strength so that they’re making their maximum contribution to the organization and they’ll feel engaged and dialed into their work. (If you’d like some help with this, give me a call. We’ll work with you to determine the best tools to help you tap into the strengths of ALL of your team members.)
4. Identify high potential leaders. Regardless of their current role, look for people who exhibit the characteristics and strengths needed to be successful in the leadership position.
5. Include high potential leaders in strategy discussions. Show him the big picture so that he has context and a broader perspective of the organization.
6. Assess your high potential leaders’ interest, willingness, and enthusiasm for taking the reins one day. No matter how good you think he might be, if he says he never, ever wants to be in a leadership role, you may need to look for someone else.
7. Offer coaching and training to top performers. How will you need to invest in her today, so that she’ll be ready tomorrow? While she may have the technical skills necessary for her current role, she’ll likely need some help with things like communication, delegation, coaching, and performance management.
8. Identify talent gaps. As you go through the process of identifying high-potential leaders within your organization, make note of where you may be lacking talent or skills. Keep your succession plan in mind when hiring and recruiting and see if you can fill those gaps.
9. Refresh, revise, update. Your succession plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be a living document that you update regularly as people, circumstances, and the business environment change.
Working through this process may open your eyes to the strengths and talents of the folks you’ve already got on your bench. And from my experience, helping your employees to recognize their strengths and putting them to work will cause them to be more engaged and eager to contribute their best.
Succession planning, like backing up the data on your computer, may seem like a task you can put off to another day. I encourage you to view it as insurance against a business-busting catastrophe. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.
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