This is a guest post by Sarah Sladek, an expert on demographic shifts, talent turnover, and generation gaps. She is the founder of XYZ University and author of three ground-breaking books. She launched the nation’s first business conference focused on bridging talent and leaderships gaps in the workforce and became a sought-after speaker and consultant to organizations nationwide. Her goal is to help organizations remain relevant to future generations.
Succession planning is a lot like getting exercise. You don’t just do it once and call it done. It’s something that needs to be revisited regularly to keep you healthy. Succession planning, like exercise, also seems to fall into the category of something everyone knows they should do but no one actually does. But you want your organization to be healthy, so let’s get your succession plans up to speed. We say “speed” because it needs to move.
Make sure management cares
Succession planning isn’t a one off thing, it takes time to build and cultivate; the people at the top of your organization must care so resources can be allocated to it and programs put into place. If your CEO doesn’t seem to care about succession planning, remind them of some great transitions that were made because it was planned, or some failures because it wasn’t.
Hint: There are many more examples of succession planning done badly than succession planning done well. Make sure you don’t fall into the first category.
Succession planning should look different at every level
The CEO isn’t the only vital role in your organization. Mid-level employees keep your business running smoothly too. For each level, you need to have a different plan. Each role is different and having successors lined up for all levels is essential.
Mid-level employees need to be prepared to make lateral moves if employees leave in another area. At this level, a cross-training approach might work best. Identify employees who would do well in different areas and make sure they get the training they need to do multiple jobs within the organization.
Cross-training will help you build stronger employees and also keep younger employees in lower level jobs engaged and learning. Your Millennial employees want to be challenged. Cross-training will challenge Gen Y to build new skills, keep them engaged and make them more functional employees.
High performance track employees
High performance track employees aren’t in leadership roles but they are doing more technical or higher level work, think engineers or accountants. Your high performing employees are probably involved in a critical part of a business process that you don’t want disrupted if they leave. Again, it’s important to cross-train your high performers, but with this group, that may include job shadowing, outside training or mentorship programs.
Involving Gen Xers in these programs will help you hold on to your talent. If you have a high performance Gen Xer who isn’t on a leadership track, they may see leaving your company as the only way to advance or make more money. Including them in your succession planning program will show them you value them and there are ways to get ahead without leaving.
Leadership track employees
Leadership track employees, your current and future leaders probably need the most mentoring and coaching to grow into the leaders you need. This level requires a more formalized plan, should have an outside and internal coach and strong commitment from management to see that development is followed through on. Leadership track employees should be given responsibility gradually in managing projects and people. Give them a chance to fail and learn from their failures.
Remember, the purpose of a succession plan is more than just names on a piece of paper, it’s about developing careers so those people are ready to lead when the time comes. Making and polishing a plan is a great start, but don’t think that means you’re done. Action is the most important step, and when it comes to succession, those actions are ongoing.