Succession Planning 101

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I had a great meeting yesterday with some of the most wonderful and interesting women around. One thing was very noticeable. We were all going through big changes. Some were retiring, some were hiring and firing, some were looking for replacements for themselves, and some were entering new careers. Prevalent in the discussion was the need for good succession planning. We had great examples of perfect planning, too much planning, and too little planning.

Succession planning is viewed by some as a negative foresight. People can be in denial that an individual would ever leave their post and others just can't seem to find the time. Well, I am here to tell you - it is very important to plan and prepare for succession. You should effectively plan succession for all roles within your organization.

Plan for succession before people move on and base it on the role they fill. Succession plans will look different at different levels, so look carefully at the work and the level of responsibility the position requires. It is also important to make the transition smooth so that the person moving on doesn't feel pushed out and the person coming in doesn't feel thrown in.

Here are the basics:

1. Take a good look at your organizational chart. Label each role with a number of 1 to 5, 5 being the lowest of work and responsibility.

A. (5) needs one month transition time

B. (4) needs two months transition time

C. (3) needs three months transition time

D. (2) needs six months transition time

E. (1) needs one year transition time

2. Label each 1-5 with where you will find your suitable replacements.

A. (3-5) may be Craigslist,, etc.

B. (1-2) may be an executive recruiting site or a recruiter.

3. Involve the person leaving in the interview and selection process.

4. When a person is selected, gradually introduce them to the work flow.

A. For (3-5) this may be a few hours with a key person in each

department, introduction to software, etc. Next, viewing all the activities the person in the role performs. Then, performing (with assistance) the activities with the person in the role. Finally, performing all the activities while the person in the role observes.

B. For (1-2) this may follow (3-5) but with extended time frames to get more detailed information and training.

5. Involve the person leaving in the final training review. Obtain notes where additional training may be needed (in their opinion).

6. Throw a party and thank the person leaving for helping make the transition go so well.

I know you are thinking... is that all? Nope, there is so much more to it. A really good succession plan includes the future goals and direction of each individual working at your organization. Your workforce needs constant challenge and opportunities for growth in order to keep people stimulated. This means you need to dig for the information to help support and grow your workforce.

I encourage employers to have their department managers meet with department staff once a quarter. This is an opportunity for a small performance check in, a chance to hear from the employee on things that could be improved or innovative ideas, and time to see what interests the employee has within the company. Employees will take this opportunity to divulge their future plans if they feel they can speak freely and be heard.

When an employee indicates interest in working in another department or another role, find out what experience or background they have to support this transition. Ask the employee why they are interested in this role. It is now your responsibility to ensure that the manager creates a plan for this employee. Plans do not need to have an immediate result, but they do need an immediate action. All plans look different, too!

Example: Stacy is a customer service rep but has a great interest in working in the marketing department. Stacy is currently taking marketing classes to fulfill her BA degree as a social marketer. She is pretty tech savvy and shows a lot of passion towards this goal.

If you do nothing, Stacy will know that she needs to find another organization once her degree is complete. If that is what you desire - fine. Just plan and be ready for her exit with your succession plan. If you want Stacy to stay with the organization, have the manager of customer service speak with the manager of marketing (and HR) to create a plan for Stacy. The plan could offer projects for Stacy to work on that combine her customer service and marketing talents. As time gets closer for Stacy's graduation, plan to have her spend an increasing amount of time in the marketing department learning a new role.

What do you do if there isn't position availability for transition? This is simple. Let Stacy know that you would love to transition her into the marketing department and have created a plan to do so. If and when a position becomes available, you will make her first on the list to transition. The hope and anticipation will keep Stacy's dream alive.

If Stacy needs more education or training from outside sources before she can move into marketing, let her know. Tell Stacy she needs to take "x" course or "x" training in order to be considered. Now it is in Stacy's hands and if she really wants it, she will follow through.

Example: Tony told his manager that he bought a small house in northern California for retirement. He and his significant other have been spending their weekends renovating and are planning on moving in a year. Tony has anxiety about retiring a few years early but wants to make it happen.

You have an opportunity to support your employee's dream and facilitate his transition into retirement! This is such a wonderful thing to be a part of. Since Tony is an executive, you will need all the time you can get to transition a new person into his role. Now, you should have a list of internal people to consider for transition into this role.... but if you do not, it is time to open the doors and start looking. Involve Tony in the process 100%. He will feel more confident and less anxious if he knows the new person is the right fit.

Slowly integrate the new person into Tony's role as described above and per your new succession plan. If Tony and the new person know the plan, they will adjust to it as scheduled and with a brighter outlook. By the time Tony's retirement approaches, he will feel more confidence in the replacement and looking forward to sunny days from his new home in California. Throw him the best retirement party and thank him for all his contributions to making your organization successful.

An added tip: Keep Tony involved and included by sending him your monthly employee newsletters and inviting him to company events. Tony will feel like he is part of a family, not just a robot that filled 50 sq.ft. of office space for 10 years.

Remember, all plans look different as they are tailored to the individual and the needs of the departments.

Tip: You should always have a list of people ready to rock and roll if an employee leaves the company. Preferably an internal individual looking for a promotion. Feeding your company's growth an opportunity from within creates an awesome workforce with a great sense of loyalty and ownership.


April Salsbury, MBA is a strategist, an analyst, an operational guru, a recognized leader and C-suite global healthcare executive with drive and focus for competitive markets. Co-host of The Business Forum Show and regular contributor to various business journals, she possess multi-functional and multi-national competencies with more than 15 years experience in business and healthcare. Her expertise is in invigorating revenue growth and infusing value of lean practices in growing companies through improvements to cash flow and operations management.

Fueling revenue, growth and profit, Salsbury & Co. is a consultancy firm focused on helping businesses and healthcare organizations achieve excellency. Our specialists have executive experience combined with deep functional expertise to provide our clients with services that drive real impact and results.

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