Thousands of Baby Boomers are on the verge of retirement. When they do decide to walk away, they’ll take decades of organizational knowledge with them. That includes a deep understanding of older systems, technologies and business processes. Succession planning can prepare you for a wave of retiring Baby Boomers, helping you minimize disruption to business operations and maintain strong customers relationships.
However, succession planning isn’t just about being prepared for the retirement of key personnel. It’s about being prepared for the future when any employee leaves. Even if your organization has mostly younger workers, employees will leave to start a family, go back to school, or take advantage of a better opportunity.
Succession planning is the process of preparing employees to fill key roles and making sure someone is always ready to take over a position should it be vacated. Essentially, you strengthen and groom your bench talent by developing your employees’ skills and knowledge. This could involve continuing education, leadership training, assignment to special projects and shadowing.
Every organization, regardless of size or age, needs succession planning. When an employee resigns, retires or even passes away, succession planning will help you keep business operations moving forward while you recruit a replacement. Even if people don’t leave your company for a long period of time, improving your employees’ skills and knowledge enables them to make more significant contributions to your organization.
You can also use succession planning to identify employees with the greatest potential who could be future leaders. For an organization going through a period of growth, succession planning allows you to keep that momentum going without speed bumps or detours.
Succession planning can help define career paths for your employees and establish their value to the rest of the organization. This can lead to better employee retention because you’re showing employees that they have an opportunity to advance and grow, and that you’re willing to invest in their growth.
Research from Deloitte found that attempts at succession planning often fall short because they lack the right combination of data-driven process and a people-centric approach. The study found that succession planning works when you focus on people but still maintain objectivity and long-term discipline.
The first step to effective succession planning is an assessment of your workforce across the entire organization. Although you need to account for senior executives, the responsibilities of employees who are critical to day-to-day operations should not be overlooked. Identify key personnel and a handful of people who could step into each role, either immediately or with good training. It’s important to have options because you can’t always predict when a successor will be needed.
Perhaps most importantly, take the time to communicate with employees to find out what their career goals are instead of assuming you know them. Some employees are best suited for and might even prefer a lateral move rather than moving up the ranks. Succession planning provides an opportunity to keep employees happy, but it can have the opposite effect if someone is forced into an unwanted role.
The worst mistake you can make is to leave success planning to chance. Don’t wait to figure out how to replace someone until after they leave. Succession planning is about preparation. It’s a process that can take more than a year. Start now, commit to the process, and use this opportunity to identify high-potential employees who can take your organization into the future.
Written and composed by Lyndsay Soprano, Director of Marketing