Why the CEO's Head Isn't the Best Place for a Succession Plan

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

When it comes to running a successful company, there’s no question that profit and growth are only sustainable if a clear succession plan is in place. What good is your business if all the institutional knowledge needed to handle the in’s and out’s of the company is tucked away in your CEO’s head?

Without a CEO leading the company, and no-one groomed to take over the business, danger lies ahead. If you’re a business leader or owner without a succession plan, it’s time to start planning for the future. You want to keep top talent engaged and your leadership pipeline full, right? If you answered yes, then keep reading to learn how to prepare for potential changes in leadership and strengthen your business.

We could write a 20-page paper on the entire succession planning process, but in this scratch-the-surface article, we’re going to keep it a little simpler by highlighting some key points and easy-to-implement tasks. We’ll also share with you links to additional resources, should you want to dive deeper into any particular topics.

Our Pre-Succession Planning Checklist is an excellent place to start. It’s a useful resource to help you frame your tasks ahead and prepare for the first steps in the planning process. Your goal is to ultimately create a succession plan that can be easily updated and managed as time goes on and circumstances change. We’re here to help guide you each step of the way!

As you get ready to move forward, it’s also helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I understand all the different skill sets our workers have?
  • Who is likely to be leaving soon?
  • Are there employees with transferable skills?
  • Who could be trained to transition into vacated or soon-to-be vacated positions?

As your first action item, identify which positions are the most critical to the success of your organization. If necessary, take time to talk one-on-one with your leadership-level employees about their positions, e.g. job duties, skills and responsibilities. Position criticality is rated on a scale of 1-5 and includes factors such as degree of decision making authority and management of other critical positions. Next, it’s helpful to determine the estimated amount of time until the current employee may leave the critical position, also known as retirement risk factor. See below for a simple chart. This will give you an idea of what the future organizational structure may look like, based on possible retirements or leadership vacancies.

Developing success profiles is another vital step in the process. Success profiles are position-specific and involve four main elements that foster success on the job, including: behaviors, knowledge, experience and skills. First, identify the success factors necessary for each critical position, then analyze which factors each potential successor has, and the ones they need to further develop. This information will help you determine whether or not each potential successor has the knowledge, experience, personal attributes and competencies required of a particular position.

In succession planning, the people part is the most important aspect, but you also need to spend time on the knowledge capture and transfer process. What is that, you ask? Knowledge capture and transfer involves documenting and transferring key knowledge and information people utilize to excel at their jobs. Obviously when someone is leaving your organization, recording and transferring their knowledge becomes increasingly urgent.

We recommend using the following scoring method to rate the amount of risk the organization would experience if this person’s knowledge and skills were lost. Ask yourself, “what type of knowledge and skills does this employee possess?”

Position Risk Factor Scoring Method

5 - Critical and unique knowledge/skills. Requires 3-5 years of training and experience. No ready replacements.

4 - Critical knowledge/skills. Limited duplication at other locations, some documentation. Requires 2-4 years of focused training and experience.

3 - Important knowledge and skills. Documentation exists. Personnel on-site possess the same knowledge/skills. Requires 1-2 years of training.

2 - Procedural non-mission critical knowledge and skills. Up-to-date documentation exists. Current training programs in place can be completed in > 1 year.

1 - Common knowledge and skills. External hires with knowledge/skills readily available.

Next, utilize the same scoring method as shown earlier in the Retirement Risk Factor chart. Multiply these scores to reach the total knowledge loss risk score.

This would also be the perfect time to complete a knowledge loss risk interview with employees in critical positions who are at risk or leaving your organization. This interview helps to identify which broad areas of knowledge an employee possesses, some of which become the topic of subsequent interviews to gather more detailed information.

As you compile your research and data, consider utilizing a visual format (think infographic, chart, grid, etc.) that captures the current organizational structure and highlights the company’s goals and vision for the future. Not skilled at chart-making? Don’t worry – at the end of this article, there is a link to our free, downloadable templates that cover everything you need throughout your succession planning journey, from identifying critical positions and developing success profiles to creating development plans and identifying knowledge loss risks and priorities. There’s even a template on How to Develop Your Implementation Plan, once you get to that stage.

Now, armed with this initial information on succession planning, you’re ready to take the first steps toward building a more solid and secure workforce, and positioning your company for the ultimate success. Go Forth!

Download Our Free Succession Planning Templates

Are you looking for a way to find the right person to take over a position? Fill your talent pipeline? Ensure that valuable knowledge is transferred before it's lost? Or, did someone say the word, "retirement?" Our easy-to-use templates can get you started.

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