If you leave me now, you’ll take away the biggest part of me....

Running a successful business (or making sure a business runs successfully!) is like fitting the correct pieces into a puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle should work with its connecting pieces if not the big picture doesn’t emerge.

A key (and often neglected) necessity is succession planning.

The reasons are obvious, but here are a few important things to chew on. We all know that good people are often hard to find. Especially the more senior they get in their career. Also, some good people have incentives from their existing employers to stay on – longer termination notice periods, stocks in the company that don’t vest immediately etc. So, replacing someone can take awhile. But the departure of key personnel (I’ll explain who they are in a minute) can happen suddenly. Even where you think you have been given warning. For example in the case of death, family emergencies or summary dismissals. Also, most notice periods for resignations are 4 weeks – and we all know that’s not a realistic timeframe for an easy transition to locate, interview and secure a new employee! And remember, despite all posturing no department really stands alone – any staffing event will have some impact on another part of the business.

So it’s not in dispute – succession planning is important and deserves proactive attention.

So, who should be on that list? The first thing to do is to identify your key staff. The criteria for identifying “key” staff will vary depending on your business, your immediate and intermediate business priorities and (gasp!) internal politics. It won’t just be the people on your Senior Management team, or the Heads of various departments. It could be your highest fee-earner, or your most respected elder statesman. The roles to consider are those who are essential to keep each part of your business ticking over and moving down the planned track.

The next step is to identify both the hard (like qualifications and working history) and soft (like communications, team building, leadership, problem solving, relationship building etc) skills of each key personnel you have identified. Don’t get carried away though – it is important to remember that not one person will be able to exhibit all of the skills you have identified! So, you should consider the levels of importance for each skill in relation to each other and the overall role. Another important thing to take into account is the incumbent. This could be an opportunity to plug any skills gaps that the incumbent may be experiencing – have a look at their performance evaluations to gather that information.

Once you have that information, then you should start to look for people in the market who may fill that brief. Search companies are the most efficient way to do this, however your own network may also net the same results. Have a list of several potential candidates, making sure you do not overlook internal candidates who may legitimately qualify.

And finally, keeping both the list of “key” personnel, the list of skills for each role and the list of potential candidates updated regularly is important. For example, to accommodate for changes in the priorities of the business, where roles have been rationalised or changed and where potential candidates have changed their circumstances.

As a leader of the company who has an eye on its success and longevity you should make sure that the company has a culture of respecting and actively planning for the succession of its key roles.

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