6 Big Problems That Come With Not Having a Succession Plan & How To Prevent Them

by Mike O'Neill

Have you ever thought about what would happen to your company if you suddenly stepped down? What about if one of your C-Suite or Leadership Team members stepped down unexpectedly?

It is possible it’s a thought that has never crossed your mind, right?  Everyone loves their job, so why would they ever want to change roles or step down?  In the corporate and manufacturing world – it does happen, and there is no time like the present to prepare for the changes that could occur.

If you have thought about it and already have a succession plan in place – excellent!  If you don’t, now is the time to make a succession plan, and I’m going to help you get started with that. 

Your succession plan should outline who takes over ownership and leadership roles at your company. When you don’t have a succession plan, it creates 6 preventable problems:

  1. Leadership is not active in the succession planning process.
  2. Open positions outnumber qualified candidates.
  3. Company diversity is not reflected in leadership.
  4. Communication breaks down between stakeholders.
  5. Rushed decisions occur when filling key roles.
  6. Employee morale is damaged by lack of inclusion.

I have decades of HR experience in manufacturing organizations – including multi-generational companies handed down from parent to child and even grandchildren.  As a skilled facilitator, I’m comfortable bringing people together to deal with sensitive and challenging issues.

Don’t leave succession planning to chance or wait until you have to make a decision. You need to complete succession planning intentionally –  so you’re not just putting people’s names in boxes to fill positions. I’ll take you through creating your own succession plan, so you don’t encounter preventable problems that will cost time and money. 

Step #1. Take an Active Role in Succession Planning

Be prepared to take an active role in succession planning. It’s easy to overthink it and make succession planning more complicated than it needs to be. 

Your succession plan needs to cover all key management positions and ownership to avoid leaving what happens in your organization up to chance. It ensures that you have plans B and C in place to continue company operations if you or key staff members suddenly depart.

Intentionally set a date to complete your plan and give each decision you have to make some serious thought. Succession planning is the responsibility of senior leadership, not your HR department. However, it is a good idea to collaborate with HR when creating your plan to identify employees who have the potential for future senior leadership roles.

To start succession planning:

  • Take an active role in it— OWN IT!
  • Focus initially on key leadership positions.
  • Avoid making succession planning HR’s problem.

Step #2. Consider Multiple, Qualified Candidates

Find at least three potential candidates for each senior leadership position, or more if you can. I know that, in reality, you only have a handful of “stars” in mind for promotion and that there are only one or two people you could see putting in leadership boxes during the planning process.

You need to find multiple candidates for each position to consider. You’ll narrow down the eligible candidates during the vetting process, so it’s counter-productive to end up with zero candidates for a position.

Finding candidates might be the hardest part of succession planning because there are often too few people to consider for key roles in your organization. Expect to do a deep dive to find people who have the potential to fill each role. Don’t forget the production floor— many talented individuals with an aptitude for leadership are just waiting for a chance to move up in the organization.

To search for candidates for key leadership roles:

  • Consider multiple candidates for each role.
  • Look beyond your handful of “stars.”
  • Do a deep dive into your employee pool to find diamonds in the rough.

Step #3. Vet Potential Successors

Vet each candidate to ensure they are a good fit for each role. While vetting candidates, keep in mind that you want to avoid choosing people who are exactly like the person they would replace. 

I know it sounds like a good idea to replace senior leaders with people just like them, but it can harm your company culture. Your future senior leaders should offer new perspectives and diversity to your organization.

Don’t be too quick to assume that someone is on the fast track to leadership. Sometimes these leaders fizzle out because they are not ready to lead or don’t have what they need to succeed. Dig deeper into employee records, seek input from department heads, and look at talent and performance reviews to see what each candidate offers your organization.

To vet potential successors:

  • Make sure they are a good fit for the role, are ready to lead, and have the tools to be successful.
  • Consider employees that offer new perspectives and diversity.
  • Look at their talent and performance reviews and speak to their current supervisors.

Step #4. Increase Communication During the Process

A problem I see often is the lack of communication between leaders and potential successors identified during succession planning. Before finalizing your plan, you must communicate with each employee chosen for leadership roles.

Sometimes employees don’t want the responsibilities that come with leadership, so it’s essential to find this out during the planning process. Other employees might need support or additional training to successfully transition into a leadership role. 

Communicating with your chosen candidates should be the easiest part of succession planning. Ask each employee if they want to move up to a leadership role and what they need to lead successfully. Offer your future leaders and employees ongoing opportunities to learn new skills and cross-train within the organization.

To effectively communicate with your candidates, ask them:

  • Are you seeking a leadership role?
  • How do you feel about the responsibilities of leadership?
  • What do you need to be a successful leader?

Step #5. Don’t Rush Decisions When Filling Key Roles

While you may feel pressure from staff to decide which candidate is best suited to fill the key role, don’t rush. But also, don’t let it drag on. It can be hard to find a balance between the two, so you’ll want to set a target date for making the decision to keep things running smoothly. 

Having a target date will allow you to make a timeline for the final decision. First, you’ll want to spend some time clearly defining the role for which you are trying to fill. Use this time to reassess what you actually need a new candidate to deliver. 

Then, you’ll need to create a strong job description. Make sure the role is clear so that the candidate knows what you’re looking for. Don’t just simply update the previous description. Tailor it to the candidate you are trying to attract. 

Once that is updated, plan and schedule the interviews. You don’t have to do them all in one day. Stagger them. Give yourself and other team members a chance to think about each candidate and what they bring to the role. Then, when all candidates have been reviewed, come together to make your final decision for the key roles.

To slow down the process when filling key roles:

  • Take some time to review the job description – again. 
  • Read over all the resumes and carefully consider all the qualified candidates.
  • Whittle down the candidate list. 
  • Interview candidates with intention. 
  • Whittle down the candidate list again.

Step #6. Include Employees Every Step of the Way

The last thing a company wants to do is ruin employee morale. Sometimes things get away from us, and we get so busy we forget to include our employees in the process. Don’t let this happen to you. 

It may seem like it’s a bad thing to let employees in on some decisions, but involving them can be very beneficial to the company. When you let your employees know what is going on, or even let them help with some decision-making processes – it shows them that you trust them. It shows them that you value their opinion, which boosts morale.

To include employees in the processes:

  • Get feedback through employee surveys (formal & informal)
  • Have an open-door policy. 
  • Let them participate in key meetings.
  • Set goals and brainstorm with them. 

One Last Final Step: Finalize the Succession Plan & Revisit It

Finalize your succession plan, but don’t let it live on a shelf collecting dust. Revisit the plan at least quarterly. During these quarterly reviews, pay particular attention to the developmental plans that have been made for each candidate. Doing  so, reinforces in the candidate’s eyes your company’s commitment to ongoing training & development opportunities. 

If you let your succession plan become outdated due to candidates leaving or accepting other positions, you’ll have the same problems as if you didn’t have one at all. Don’t leave yourself in a position where you have to rush to assign people to leadership roles.

With an updated succession plan in place, you won’t have to worry about the “what ifs,” and your employees will have higher morale knowing that their future is secure if something catastrophic happens to you or any of the members of senior leadership. 

To avoid your succession plan collecting dust:

  • Revisit it quarterly.
  • Communicate regularly with leadership candidates. 
  • Pay particular attention to progress made on the candidate developmental plans.
  • Revise the plan as needed.
If you’re not keen on developing your succession plan yourself, talk with me to figure out what you want to do. We can create a practical succession plan quickly and effectively. Also, if you have any tips or helpful advice for writing succession plans, feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

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  • I appreciate your advice when you told us to consider at least three potential candidates and vet each one of them to see if they are fitting for the role of succession. I own a law firm, and since I plan to retire in 10 years, I need to come up with a succession plan soon. I’ll keep this in mind while I look for an accountant who can help with my succession planning soon.

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