Whether you have a business or you are looking to forward your personal career, it pays to have a plan in place. Finding your replacement before it’s needed is essential in order to keep continuity in the business and work, but it also requires you to let go of some ego and even perhaps overcome some fear and trust issues.
A Harris poll found that 60% of small business owners had no succession plan in place. I study by Wilmington Trust further affirms the data, finding 58% of small business owners with no succession plans. The gap isn’t just a challenge for small businesses, many national and global organizations lack a true plan for leadership succession.
Capabilities of today vs needs for the future
The saying, “What got you here, won’t get you where you want to go,” is certainly true when it comes to succession planning. Just because someone is very productive and efficient at the role that is currently in, doesn’t automatically mean that they will be great at the next level.
As you look for that next leader on your team, think about the skills that they currently have against the ones that they will need in order to be successful. Each time a person crosses a threshold from one level of leadership to another, it requires them to reconfigure their skills in order to have continued success.
Think about a phenomenal individual contributor. They may be incredible at what they do, but they’ll need to let go of certain passion projects/tasks and learn to delegate and prioritize their time differently in order to be a leader. As they progress in their career to lead other leaders, they’ll need to change again in what they focus on, how they communicate, and spend their personal time.
Identify and spend time with your future leader to prepare for those key skills and changes in behavior before the opportunity arises.
Test it and realistically access
Once you figure out those key skills and attributes to develop the person around you, it’s good to test out their learnings. Here are a few ways that you can test their growth and readiness:
- Run hypotheticals: Present real-world scenarios and talk through how they would go about navigating the challenge. You can add a sense of urgency by condensing timelines, and/or temporarily taking away resources to understand how they adapt to the environment. Give the person meaningful feedback after they complete the scenario. This is a great safe way to role-play unique and challenging parts of the role with someone.
- Extend some authority: There’s very little that someone do that can’t be ultimately fixed. Extend some authority to the person, so that they can get an understanding of responsibility, try it on, and provide others with a glimpse of what the person is capable of. Start small in scale, time, and impact level and add on as the person shows more comfortability and delivers on the result.
- Give them exposure to other parts of the business: Often when a person moves up, it means that they will be interfacing with a new area of the business. Perhaps they would take on more financial responsibility or perhaps take in a whole new segment of the business. Give them opportunities to explore those new areas early, so that they have comfortability and knowledge around them as they grow their business acumen.
As you add in these scenarios and situations to prepare them for the next level, give them real and honest feedback along the way. It serves them and your people better when aren’t afraid to shy away from difficult conversations and coaching moments.
During the development phase, you and the other person may realize that they are currently in their sweet spot in the career, and promoting them would do both the person involved and the team a disservice. Rest assured that learning this information, doesn’t mean that you’ve wasted effort. Quite the contrary! You’ve saved an employee from going into a job that they wouldn’t enjoy and you have saved time and money spent in replacing one or both roles. Through the process, you’ve also increased the knowledge and experience of the person that will serve them well in the role that they are currently in.
Run the two-up exercise on yourself
Now that you’ve got some idea of succession development with your people, it’s time to put your strategy to the test to see how well you have future-proofed your key positions.
Run the succession exercise with yourself or your leader(s): The exercise is simple enough, you simply start at the top of the team and ask the hypothetical, “This is now gone, who’s next?” You then work your way down your proverbial organizational ladder from there to check where your opportunities are. It’s not uncommon to have segments that are well-prepared for and others that are in obvious need of attention.
Once you have built in a good layer of succession and development on your ladder take the exercise to the next level by going two-deep on the roles that you are planning succession around. We’ve seen on countless occasions where this has real-world implications and payoff. Have you ever seen a leader leave and then the 2nd in command leave not long afterward? It happens! Going two deep on succession provides you with a natural level of protection when two drop (or promote) within a small timeframe.
Embrace your succession planning efforts to take your team’s development and your own potential to the next level.
Make a better tomorrow.