No Time Like the Present for Succession Planning

Remember those resolutions made last month — specifically, “identify and groom a successor?” January is almost over already, so there’s no time like the present to get started on a succession plan.

Why now? More than half the CFOs interviewed for “The Specialist Economy,” a white paper from Robert Half, reported that finding skilled financial professionals is “somewhat or very challenging.” This trend dovetails with another: an increase in the percentage of top-level financial managers electing to retire early.

With CFO unemployment rates below 2 percent and demand for senior accountants increasing, now’s the time to start planning for your eventual departure – even if your retirement target is 2015 or beyond.

Plot Out the ‘Reorg Shuffle’

Succession planning is crucial for the stability of a business regardless of its size. Once a succession plan is in place, it will be years before it pays off. That a well-executed strategy for finding a CFO replacement can take so long is a major risk for any company. Smoothing the transition for the incoming CFO is important and must be balanced against the planned departures for other senior company leaders, especially that of the CEO.

Firms that succeed with succession planning think beyond selecting likely candidates for C-level roles. They include senior and middle management levels in their plans to avoid having to make interim appointments to these critical leadership positions. As you consider who will succeed you, be sure other staffers are ready to step into the roles that will get reorganized when you make your move.

Involve the Whole Organization

You probably have a lot in common with the majority of CFOs Robert Half Management Resources interviewed last year: You’re too busy striving to meet the routine obligations of your role to prioritize succession planning above other objectives. Or perhaps, like others who delayed hiring for senior finance roles during the Great Recession, your company doesn’t have internal candidates with the right mix of skills and experience on staff right now.

Don’t let those obstacles prevent you from starting. You can’t — nor should you — find your replacement all on your own. Here are a few ideas on how to get help finding and nurturing candidates for future transitions:

  • Make succession a business planning priority. Your senior management team and board of directors will add perspective on where the business is going. Remember, the skills you use most today may not be best for handling the job three to five years from now.
  • Rely on expert recruiters. Your human resources group or a recruitment partner like Robert Half Finance & Accounting can help you locate new employees who have the needed growth potential.
  • Invest in rotation programs. Once you identify or hire promising talent, this tried-and-true tactic enables up-and-comers to gain the technical knowledge and operational experience they need.

Make a (Very) Slow Exit

Even if you love your job, few stay in senior financial management jobs much more than a decade. You have it within your purview to craft an exit strategy. Keep your eye on team leaders who deliver on objectives without churning through staff. Help them learn and incentivize them to pursue bigger challenges within the business. But, most important of all, stop procrastinating the creation of your succession plan — too bright a future awaits you and your successor!