Succession Planning is Not What You Think

Too often, I have heard board members define succession planning as having someone on staff that is ready to step in should the CEO, in a planned or unplanned manner, leave the organization. At best, this is transition planning, but not succession planning. And, I would argue that if an organization’s “transition planning” is limited to this, the organization as a failed transition plan.

While a transition plan is part of a succession plan, it is not the most important part of the plan. Succession planning is not an event; it is an ongoing process. In fact, good succession planning focuses more on delegation, cross training, documentation of procedures and having a sound organizational strategy. Comprehensive succession planning also takes into consideration positions other than the chief staff officer. Good governance dictates that, at a minimum, organizations have a sound, and current, CEO succession plan in place.

As far as the CEO post is considered, delegation is key to succession planning. Delegation also delivers value to the organization well beyond succession planning. As a CEO, one should be delegating everything that someone else can do or be trained to do. Delegating less does a disservice to the employees and to the organization. It shortchanges the employee by removing opportunities for the employee to learn new skills and gain valuable experience critical to their professional development. The organization looses because talent is not being developed and opportunity for diverse perspective and approaches is stymied.

Cross training is critical at all levels of the organization. Cross training provides an opportunity for the staff to gain greater knowledge, understand how their normal duties can impact other projects and programs, and get an appreciation for the role of others. Cross training also increases productivity during “crunch” times and strengthens teamwork. Of course, it is especially important during periods of staff transition that are not planned for or during temporary absences.

Having well documented processes for all major projects / programs in the form of comprehensive project management plans is another important aspect of succession planning. Beyond succession planning, a solid project management a great management tool. If you are in need of a basic project management tool template, you can download one here.

Having a current organizational strategy is also a key element of succession planning. It is especially critical during times of CEO transition. In fact, one of the first steps in managing a transition is to evaluate the current strategy and determine, based on the then current realities, what if any strategy changes might be in order.

If you are interested in additional information on CEO succession planning, I suggest you consider obtaining Nancy Axelrod’s book published by Board Source: Chief Executive Succession Planning – Essential Guidance for Boards and CEOs. Nancy’s book contains a chief executive succession planning cycle, focuses on being prepared for CEO transitions, and addresses the executive search process.

In your experience, what are the most important elements of succession planning?

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