It’s been a good run. You’ve served as one of the organization’s senior leaders for many years. But it’s time to devote attention to other endeavors while you still can. The Board conversation is predictable.

BOARD: “We’ll hate to see you go but thanks for all you’ve done for our organization. We’d like you to stay on in some capacity with the Board.”

What happens next?

BOARD: “Who do you recommend as your successor?”

YOU: (You give them a couple of names)

BOARD: “Are they ready?”

YOU: “Yes.”

BOARD: “Great, let’s get them in here for a chat.”

But here’s what we’re curious about.

  • Rank order your succession candidates. What was the objective means you used to arrive at your assessment? How much more development is required for each candidate or are they ready now?
  • Do you know what happens when you promote one over the other? Do the others leave? If they stay, is it for the long- or short-term?
  • When we promote one of them to your role, who backfills their position?
  • Does that backfill candidate want the position? Are they ready? If not, how long will it take before they’re ready or must we hire from outside?
  • Who backfills the backfill (and so on)? What organizational holes (risks) do we uncover in the process of filling your position?

In general, how are you preparing your entire team to succeed their boss?

Do you know who wants specific opportunities? Do they know what’s required for those roles? How long will it take them to be ready?

And when we ask these questions, the room goes silent. Perhaps it isn’t important. Perhaps it’s simply unpleasant to think about not doing what you’re doing. Your auditors and regulators probably aren’t asking for this. They want to know how you continue to operate if select senior leaders are gone. Seems like a lot of work.

Here’s our case for doing more.

  • It could be resource intensive. What the inspectors require you to do isn’t succession planning. It’s replacement planning. But, your Board may ultimately find themselves in costly and lengthy search to find your successor while the organization limps along with a short-term backfill. Any reason one or more of your direct reports couldn’t have been ready to seamlessly follow you? Wasn’t that part of your job (to prepare your subordinates)?
  • Any single move starts a domino effect. One person’s move creates a vacancy. At some point in that chain reaction, something critical is likely impacted, perhaps broken. You could easily find yourself balancing an individual’s long-term career progression against the need to keep them on a short-term project. That’s not fair.
  • Individual Development Plans. The key word here is “individual”, yet what we find is a “one-size-fits-all” template; largely a pro forma requirement only completed to keep the boss (or HR) happy. If I knew who wanted promotion to what positions, had an assessment of their abilities against the objective position’s requirements, and a development plan to get them from point A to point B, I’d not only support succession but make development plans useful again. Hoorah.
  • Performance Reviews. And if you have every one of your potential succession candidates on an individualized path toward a more senior position, you now have something legitimate to assess during those often-painful annual evaluations. Please. Stop the “cut and paste” from last year’s review.

You said it yourselves last year (on September 22, 2019 in Galveston, Texas according to my notebook). “85% of organizations surveyed sell due to succession.” Interested in sustaining your business well into the future? Then it’s time to get serious.

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