Have you ever completed the presentation of a succession plan for your business, wiped your brow, said “Whew, I’m glad that’s done!” and placed it on the shelf, not to be touched for the next 12 months? If you’re now saying, “Been there, done that,” please allow me to challenge you for a moment. I’m qualified because I’ve “been there, done that” — and learned my lesson.
In succession planning, the plan is secondary to the development that should happen in response to the plan.
Why do I say this?
The succession planning exercise is a great approach to bring your firm’s leadership together to discuss the next-in-line leaders. Who is going to replace who? Are they ready today? Will they be ready one to two years from now? All good stuff, right? However, if you stop there, you will have completed a great exercise, but missed a big opportunity to grow key people within your company.
Once you have identified your high potential and promotable employees, why not talk to them about it? If you are saying, “Egos may erupt if I tell someone they are considered ‘high potential’,” you are not alone. However, I believe telling someone they are considered high potential should be practiced by more mature organizations that have a defined protocol for communication and transparency. By revealing this, you are powerfully communicating to your key employees they matter to you. If those key employees were thinking about leaving your firm, they will now think twice, resulting in increased retention.
Another way to communicate to your key employees they are important to you is to invest in their development. There is no better employee investment than investing in high potential and promotable employees. These associates are your future leadership. They will have the most impactful influence on your company’s success in the coming years. Why not invest in their development?
What does this development look like? It’s called development in place: developing employees within their current roles by providing opportunities for stretch and special assignments. A list of development activities could include:
- Special assignments to take the employee out of their comfort zone and develop them in the areas of opportunity. These stretch assignments can include leading a team, handling a negotiation, writing a proposal, designing a course, participating in high conflict projects that include cost cutting, outplacement or the “undoable” projects. Projects which involve a new task, a start-to-finish mandate, and end result accountability can be powerful experiences.
- Job rotations and Cross-Training include having the employee share a role with someone from whom he/she could learn critical skills. The employee can rotate into different roles within and outside of their group
- Training Programs / Reading can provide employees with valuable leadership development opportunities. When using these, be sure to hold the employee accountable for executing a plan including the key points they took away from the training / reading and how they will apply those key points on the job.
The next time you undertake your succession plan, be sure to use the plan to execute on some of the best investments you can make: investments in your high potential and promotable key employees