Successful tactics for succession planning

ImageSuccession planning is often difficult, but the following are five important people–handling strategies that can be applied profitably in every succession–planning scenario:

1. Working their way through your company from the ground up is not always necessary to build future leaders. Besides getting an appropriate education, it may be best if your potential successors gain work experience and new perspectives with other companies in the printing industry—or even in settings outside the industry—in order to develop their abilities to succeed in different circumstances.

2. Leadership candidates should be given experience in different parts of your company in order to understand how it operates as a whole.  A further reason to move candidates around is to give them the opportunity to build trusting relationships with key staff, suppliers, and customers.

3. Avoid the “boss’s kid” syndrome.  If you’re handing over your business to your children, they need the same skills you would seek if you went looking for an outsider to take over your company.  Your children should enter the business at a level of authority and responsibility appropriate for their background, and their salary and advancement should be based on the same criteria that apply to any other employee.  Such a methodology instills appropriate respect on all sides for qualifications and experience, and makes it clear to everyone (including your offspring) that they have earned their place in the company.

4. In all cases, open communication is essential.  Otherwise rumors abound, and the people you have identified as successors may leave for reasons of uncertainty. Your top performers always have opportunities to go elsewhere; thus it helps to engage them in the succession planning process early and let them know you realize they always have a choice.

Open communication is also crucial in transforming succession decisions from a process of dark, secretive collusion practised behind closed doors into a transparent, established discipline with a fair system of evaluation and recognized measures of accountability and performance. Therefore there are two keys to communicating about succession planning effectively with employees: one is talking openly with staff about their own potential and how to achieve it; and the other is communicating the objective, systematic criteria that apply to succession decisions at your company. Such an open, systematic approach reinforces the teamwork and collaboration that are increasingly recognized as chief hallmarks of good leadership.

One minor caveat is that companies that foster open succession planning may discover not everyone likes the idea. They sometimes encounter resistance from managers who worry about job security and think they are more valuable if they are the only people who know their own jobs. There are two ways to counter that attitude: on the negative side, you can point out that managers who don’t identify and equip a successor to handle their jobs are under performing by putting the company at risk. Or taking a more positive tack, you can demonstrate that the company values staff who assume responsibility for succession planning.

5. Capitalizing on an age–blended workforce is critical to a smooth succession initiative.  A significant number of organizations are expected to cope with the reduced future workforce by offering phased retirement and “retires on call” programs in which older employees work fewer hours both before and after retirement.  Such programs allow older workers to continue contributing their invaluable knowledge and experience to the business.  

You can maximized the value of such programs by assigning some training and mentoring activities to retirees.  In cases where your chosen successors are not yet ready to assume senior roles, the solution may be identifying someone already on board your staff in a senior capacity to groom a selected candidate for the future, or else hiring someone from outside for that express purpose.  (But in these cases, you need to make sure everyone is well aware of the plan—the mentor, your family, and the other people within the company.)  

Because of the dynamics of today’s business climate and workforce, hiring managers are factoring in succession considerations more and more often when making their hiring decisions. No matter what your scenario, your task is always that of hiring the best individuals to achieve present and future objectives.  It is the unique aspects of each person and situation—and not a one–size–fits–all solution—that will determine the best possible succession strategy.

   Victoria Gaitskell, Placement specialist
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