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Leadership Thought #385 – The Importance of Succession Planning

Far too many organizations are dependent upon far too few people to be successful.  I often ask my clients, “What happens to your business if something happens to you?”  The answers more often than mot are less than satisfactory.  One of the key jobs of a leader is to mitigate risk and one of the biggest risks you have in any company is people risk – starting at the top.  It may feed your ego to be critically important to your company but it is no way to build an enduring successful organization. 

All leaders and managers at every level should be thinking about who succeeds them in their role.  You should take seriously the need to groom your successor as you move on to bigger and better things.  Unless you are the owner, you may also face the potential reality that there will be people beneath you in the chain of command who may pass you by one day.  Instead of resisting this dynamic, take pride in your ability to groom and mentor talented people.  If you put the interests of the company ahead of your own, the right decisions become much easier to make.

I do not like to see organizations held hostage due to the importance of any one employee.  I understand this can be a more difficult challenge for smaller businesses/non-profits especially where founders are concerned.  However, the problem must be addressed nonetheless.  If an important function/role is in the hands of one person, what do you do if they get sick, leave to take another job, or have some other major life issue distract their attention?  There must always be a Plan B.   Moreover, whenever an employee of this caliber threatens to leave for greener pastures, I say let them go and build better bench strength the next time around.

Our job as a leader is to create interdependence not dependence.  The good news is that people usually step up if you ask them to.  Most employees want to learn and grow and take on additional responsibilities.  As you long as your create a work environment where the only option isn’t “up or out” individuals will tend to stretch themselves when asked.  You also want to be wary about pitting people against one another and fostering a win-lose mindset.  Great teams always beat talented individuals.  Lastly, you should be constantly assessing the talents/skill sets of your employees and addressing any gaps proactively as needed. 

Never forget that as a business, you are your people and your future is literally in the hands of your newest recruit and latest employee promotion.


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