On Oct. 14, I was asked to lead a conference workshop on succession planning for the Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio in Canton. This topic has been near and dear to my heart since my days as training manager with BorgWarner Chemicals. Part of my responsibilities there was to vet and approve various learning opportunities to enable the top dozen or so leaders who were included in this process to gain a targeted skill set. I also interviewed these leaders after their development experiences to see if they felt the programs they attended had accomplished their learning objectives.
I began my presentation with the question, "What would happen to your business is you were hit by a beer truck?" My boss at BorgWarner often asked me that very question. He asked it so often I became especially fearful of beer trucks careening down the highway.
The session participants were mostly small business people and the issue was of vital importance to continuation of their businesses. Succession planning is an on-going process to make sure the right people have the right skills in the event of a death or sudden departure of a key leader.
The prerequisite for a succession plan is a contemporary, viable vision for the organization. The succession map itself should be a part of the strategic plan, which is a series of implementation steps to enable the vision.
When creating a succession plan, first identify the positions critical to maintaining a healthy organization. Second, design skill templates for these critical positions. Third, identify high-potential employees who might fill these positions. Fourth, administer skill assessments of the chosen employees and compare them to the position skill template. Fifth, design a skill development plan to make learning opportunities available to fill the gap between the skill templates and the results of the skill assessments. Skills development plans can include but are not limited to internal or external training programs, mentoring, assigned reading, coaching, involvement in professional associations, shadowing, academic programs, job rotation, or computer based programs.
Seventh, assess the success or failure of these opportunities. If the learning was not accomplished, future development processes must be identified. Assessments can involve self-report data, behavioral observation, impact on the business, or client reports.
When implementing a succession process, try not to make replicates of the present office holders. Remember, candidates with diverse skills can add creativity to your organization. You must also consider any legal requirements for the position and meet those obligations. When there are no available internal candidates, future hires should be chosen while considering the succession plan needs. Finally, until the succession plan has been successfully implemented, a short-term emergency replacement process should be discussed.
Organizations that have invested in succession planning find that it enhances employee loyalty, and their reputation in their industry. As a matter of fact, your company may become an employer of choice for your type of business. This whole process does require funds to be dedicated for employee development. However, if you lose key employees without this process, the cost to the business could be much higher.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.