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Succession Planning Missteps to Avoid

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Succession Planning Missteps to Avoid


There comes a point in every business when you need to start succession planning. And that point is almost always sooner than you think. Maybe it’s because most business owners narrowly define succession as a prerequisite to retirement and turn a blind-eye until then. But it’s bigger than that and more critical to the long term success of your company.

Succession planning can help you grow in a more stable fashion and add value to your business.

If you look at succession planning as the ongoing process of identifying and developing talent, as well as future leaders, it’s easy to see the benefits. But if you are not careful, it’s also easy to work against yourself. Here are five common missteps that will scuttle the most well intentioned plans.

1. Avoiding an honest assessment of critical positions

Any good plan has to begin with an assessment of where you are. In succession management, that means taking stock of the critical positions in your company. Map the roles you cannot do without. A risk assessment should include the entire company, not just you, even if you wear most of the hats.

If you do wear multiple hats, it’s unlikely you will find one person capable of stepping into your mega-role. It’s smarter to start separating them out, and planning for how each role can be fulfilled individually.    

2. Not clearly articulating the competencies needed

Having unclear expectations is a recipe for failure. Write down a clear set of capabilities needed for successful performance in each of the critical positions. It’s essential for guiding learning and development plans, setting clear performance expectations, and for assessing performance.

3. Only considering one strategy for fulfilling the succession plan

Several strategies are open to every business owner, if you have the critical roles and competencies defined. The trap is only looking at one, which can severely bottleneck your progress. You need to weigh the effort and potential for each, including developing talent internally, hiring new, or even outsourcing. Using multiple strategies is even more imperative, for instance, if you intend to eventually have a family member take over the business, and they may not yet have all the competencies required.

4. Not documenting the strategies and processes

If you don’t write down processes and responsibilities it’s a much greater challenge for the person new to the role to learn them, and if you don’t track the progress of a particular strategy, you can’t make a good decision about how it’s working. Both scenarios just drain the momentum out of your growth plan and leave everyone frustrated. Take the time to document both processes and progress.

And here’s a hint: it doesn’t always have to be you who does the writing. It can be worth your while to train others how to document procedures, so you can have more people sharing the load.

5. Not looking at succession planning as an ongoing part of your job as a leader.

There is no benefit to you, your business or your employees to put off communicating a clear succession plan, or leave growth expectations vague.

Everyone, feels better knowing what’s next, and what’s in it for them – from your staff to your potential business partners. So if you make succession planning as much a part of your strategic thinking as your sales and delivery planning, it can become an asset, rather than something that pops up late in the game and bites you in the… well, you get the idea.

It’s never too soon to start your succession plan. And smart business owners will continue to revisit their action plan as their business grows within each stage.

How are you taking steps stabilize your growth, and add value to your business by succession planning? Any stumbles or successes you’d like to share? Drop us a line with your tips at [email protected].  We’d love to share your comments!