Succession Planning

When was the last time you worked on succession planning in your business and/or team? Hint: if it was more than a month ago, it’s time to start working on it more often.  

Many business leaders don’t make plans for both the career progression of their people, or for what they are going to do when (yes WHEN not IF) key people leave. They don’t have a succession plan.

And while many business leaders want to have a solid plan, they can’t find a way into a succession strategy. 

So today dear readers, I want to share a way in. Drum roll please: Professional development (PD).  

Most of us know that our own development is important for our growth. And these days, business leaders get that investing in the growth of their people is an investment in their business. But they are more likely to think that PD is important in terms of employee retention.   

Yes, it is. AND… 

What does retention look like? Top talent/high performing employees are going to be looking for career advancement. They are not going to want to stay in the same role forever. So, in order to retain them, organizations need to offer a path for advancement and plan for how to replace employees who leave. 

Because here is the thing about succession planning: when the time comes, your people need to be READY for that next role.  

So, what types of PD do you need to be thinking about when looking at succession planning? There are three key categories: 

Technical skills development: these are foundational skills and what most of us think of when we imagine PD. Think sales training for a sales person. It’s the training that you need to do each year to keep your license. And many of us get stuck here – but there are two other kinds of PD. 

People management skills: knowing how to manage, inspire, and lead a team. Having a basic understanding of HR, interviewing skills, and how to give feedback. 

Peripheral vision skills: these are the strategic skills, financial literacy, understanding the broader industry context, having networks, imagining what is coming and what is next. 

Here is why PD is your way into creating a succession strategy. Imagine a retail store. Let’s call it RARE retail. It has a store manager, assistant manager, 3 FT sales people and a team of hourly temporary staff for the holidays. One of those FT sales people is an absolute rockstar. They are a top sales person for the region, consistently exceeding sales targets. One day the store manager resigns. The assistant manager is promoted to store manager and because the rockstar sales person is so good at what they do, they are promoted to assistant manager. And it’s a disaster – the store’s sales plummet. 

Why? Well, the sales person was a rockstar sales person. They had done lots of sales training. They probably even led some sales training for new employees. But no one said they were a great people manager, no one said they had peripheral vision. And they had not had training in these two areas. But as a new assistant manager, they now spend most of their time managing people and running the store, rather than being on the floor selling (so, the store has essentially lost its best sales person). And they are now struggling because they don’t have the skills to run a team. And suddenly they are not enjoying their work, and now are thinking about looking for another job.  

I see this over and over, across every industry. You probably have seen this too. People who have strong technical skills being promoted, but without the people management skills and peripheral vision training. It doesn’t work. A successful succession strategy needs to be support by a PD plan. It’s your way in. 

In my consulting practice, I work with organizational leaders to develop a comprehensive PD plan that incorporates ALL THREE kinds of development: technical skills, people management skills and peripheral vision training. And that PD plan then supports a succession plan. With this kind of PD plan, the sales person would have received the training that they need to manage a team and run a store, so that when the times comes, they are ready! 

In my work with my career coaching clients, I ask them to create a PD plan for themselves that incorporates all three kinds of development. It creates possibility, it prepares them for their next steps, and it diversifies their skills. It makes them a desirable candidate for their next role, and ultimately, having skills in all three areas, technical, people management and peripheral vision, positions them well if there is a downturn. 

So, this week, have a think about the PD you have done recently. Is it preparing you for your next steps? Does it include people management training and peripheral vision development? And if you manage a team, start to think about succession planning- your way in is through PD plan that includes all three elements for your people. 

If you get stuck, you know who to call for help, your favorite people whisperer. I would love to work with you to figure it all out. 

Until next week,
H