When I was five years old, my dad decided it was time for me to learn to swim, and he picked me up and threw me off the deck into the lake. I remember him standing on the dock yelling, “C’mon, swim…you can do it.” I’m not sure where my mother was at the time, but I am sure if she’d been within a mile of the incident, she would have jumped in and rescued me. I puttered around thinking, I’m going to drown and dog paddled back to shore, determined never to get near water in my dad’s presence again. I never had swimming lessons, but I eventually, taught myself to swim.
I can’t help but think about my dad tossing me into the water every time I hear about a person being thrown into leadership without a succession plan in place. I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen the handoff from one business generation to the next completed successfully.
So, why do you need a succession plan? Many times the old has little to no time to train the new. It stunts the growth of the organization as the new leader ramps up to speed. It damages the organization internally and externally—sometimes to a point that it never recovers. Many new leaders come into an organization with little to no transition. They are thrown into the lake and expected to sink or swim. When it fact, swim lessons, a life jacket and everything else they need to be successful are all within reach of the organization to provide.
Here are a few important ideas of how you can ensure success for the incoming leadership to key positions within your organization:
1. Overlap exit and entrance for training purposes. Let’s say your Chief Operating Officer (COO) is retiring. He’s been with the organization for twenty years and has a staff that will follow him anywhere. The policies and procedures currently in place are tried and true. Schedule the new COO’s arrival to overlap with the outgoing COO’s departure for whatever amount of time it will take to see an entire cycle of business (a month, a quarter, etc.). Yes, you’re paying two salaries, but nine times out of ten it will save you money in the long run.
2. Give the new leader a strong period of transition. Encourage your new leader to learn the position, and build relationship with his team. Ask him or her to do the job the way the current leader does for now; with emphasis on the fact that you’ll discuss incorporating change after training is complete.
3. Drill the job description weekly. So many times employees hire on and the job description disappears. It’s important to review the job description, weekly at first and then quarterly. Job positions and responsibilities change as the organization grow. This allows accountability to the employer and the employee. It establishes boundaries and allows additional responsibilities to be identified.
4. Communicate your expectations clearly. Meet weekly (or more if necessary) to stay connected during training and transition. Provide open discussion for him or her to share what’s working and what’s not and also use this time to share your observations of progress in an encouraging way.
5. Encourage relationships. Hold your new leaders hand at first. Introduce him or her to peers, leadership and staff. Identify who to go to for insight, understanding and support as he or she learns their new role in the organization.