Succession Planning is Essential to Success

By: Greg Modd

There’s an old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Cute and memorable, so in April 2018, I thought it’d be helpful to take a University of Michigan Ross School of Business Executive Education course Strategic Human Resource Planning. The wonderful and esteemed faculty included Dick Beatty and William F. Joyce. Dick has worked with well over half of the Fortune 100 firms. William’s client base is wide-ranging and includes highly visible firms from the telecommunications, high technology, government, and financial services sectors. All that to say, I learned the X’s and O’s of succession from some of the best in the business.

How many companies have evaluated their succession plan? It’s one of those strategic initiatives that sits on the top ten list for many organizations but, year after year, doesn’t get started or fully accomplished. Why? My professional opinion is it’s due to the mindset that it’s a non-revenue generating activity that takes time, talent, and energy that most lack due to the overflowing duties and fires that need immediate attention. Therefore, companies continue with the status quo, and when top talent exits, some organizations will engage with a high-level staffing company. Leadership will do their best to fill in the gap between exited talent and new talent upskilling. On and on we go… when the merry-go-round stops, we’ll never know.

There must be a better way. I believe there is, and it’s called succession planning. Let’s expel some myths. It’s not necessary to plan for every position in the organization. Instead, what are the revenue-generating positions? For instance, do you know the third-string tackle of your favorite NFL team? Probably not, but do you know the starting quarterback? If you have a favorite team, I’m sure you know that name. Like NFL teams, organizations need to have a plan for the QB because that is who the fans are paying to come to see. Your business has producers who pose a risk to the business’ revenue if they were to exit.

Therefore, the big takeaway for you is to identify the position(s) in your organization generating material revenue and how you would backfill that position. Is there an internal backfill, or will you need to hire externally? Succession planning aims to identify and develop new, potential leaders who can move into those revenue-generating roles when they become vacant, or the business grows.