Succession Planning: It Isn’t Just For Royalty

baton-passing-0416Some business topics get all the headlines, and get written and rewritten over and over. Yet others receive very little attention, even though they can be as important, or even more important than the hot topics of the day.

Succession planning is kind of managerial task that company owners and general managers roll their eyes at, shuffle off to the side, and ignore to go work on something more urgent or exciting.

Yet it’s critical. There’s always a need, metaphorically speaking, to have someone warming up in the bullpen to relieve your star player. If you don’t it can be catastrophic.

A perfect example of a worst case scenario recently happened to one of my customers. Over many years, as the company grew larger and more prosperous, the job roles of one of the senior members of the management team had evolved to take on more and more responsibility for the operations, logistics and inventory control of all the divisions of the company.

Being a driven, Type-A personality, as such managers often are, he worked tirelessly. He was on top of it all. And being driven and focused, he never subordinated or delegated any of his regular tasks to anyone else. He was, in a word, indispensable. Which is why it was such a shock when he passed away suddenly last year.

In addition to their grief over his passing, it dawned on the rest of the team that none of them knew how to do his job.
Believe it or not, none of the administrative and support staff had ever been tasked with logistics and inventory management.

The other co-general manager’s duties were entirely focused on the front-end customer-facing side of the business, and he had to face the ugly fact that he knew literally nothing about the back end systems his peer had built over the years. And the company owner, who over the years had delegated more and more authority and responsibility to his two trusted managers had his own “OH CRAP!” moment when he realized he knew nothing about how to run his company any more.

As tragic and alarming as all this was, the reason I got involved is because they reached out to me and said, “None of us know how to place orders with you!” So I spent time coaching the management team and their office admin staff on how the interface between the two companies works.

I’m happy to say that my customer emerged from these trials stronger and wiser. As a result of their experience, they decentralized much of their management. The newly promoted operations general manager and the front end general manager have both delegated more of their day-to-day duties to office staff who have learned the system.
In the same way that they train up and develop store-level staff to become store managers, finally at head office, they’ve put training and processes in place so that office support staff understand the systems, and are able to do the operational parts of a manager’s job, and in the process identify future office managers for promotion. Now, with cross-training and delegation, no one person is indispensable.

In the same way that you design redundancy and serviceability into your AV systems, so too should you plan for training and development of your personnel, so that your people are able to fill in any sudden gaps in your organizational chart.

Do that, and you won’t be in for a big surprise.

Image via tableatny