Who’s Next? Time Waits for no Succession Plan

Most of us procrastinate in some way. Even businesses procrastinate. Consider the matter of succession planning, for instance.

While you might assume there’s some serious behind-the-scenes planning involved when it comes to a key position such as chief financial officer, research suggests that’s not the case. More than three-fourths (78 percent) of CFOs responding to a Robert Half Management Resources survey said they have not identified a successor for their position.

Why not? More than half (61 percent) of those surveyed said they’re not planning to leave their firm in the near future. Other reasons given were that financial executives are too busy focusing on more pressing concerns (19 percent) and a lack of qualified internal candidates (14 percent).

Of course, these are all the more reasons why planning for leadership transition within a business is necessary. You can’t foresee the unexpected, but you can be prepared — at least to some degree — for any eventuality.

Although some companies tend to drag their feet when it comes to succession planning, the process doesn’t have to be complicated or unusually time-consuming. But you have to start somewhere. What better time than now to get serious about preparing for talent transitions?

Consider the following suggestions.

Don’t just focus at the top.

Although we often hear about succession planning at the highest levels, every company, large and small, needs to identify and plan for continuity in key areas and at various levels. A business may need to plan just as diligently to replace a compliance or tax expert or someone with in-demand technology skills as it would a senior finance manager.

Use succession planning to inform hiring.

Businesses benefit by knowing with certainty whether they have a pipeline of capable in-house successors for key roles. If not, talent gaps can be used to focus recruiting efforts. Moreover, top candidates are attracted to organizations that can demonstrate they put an emphasis on developing and promoting from within.

Keep an open mind.

The best future leaders may not always be those next in line for promotion. This assumption is a common mistake many employers make that can result in the departure of talented professionals because they perceive a lack of advancement opportunities. Remember, too, that during the recent recession many employees earned experience they might not have under “normal” circumstances, so their skills may be more advanced than their job title suggests.

Groom high-potentials.

Focus on closing knowledge and skill gaps in those identified as high-potential employees. Individuals may need additional career development in the form of mentoring, more hands-on experience, job rotations and continuing professional education programs. Refining interpersonal skills should also be an area of focus for all succession candidates. These nontechnical skills — which include the ability to listen to others, negotiate solutions, maintain self-control in stressful situations and articulate feelings diplomatically — are all important attributes for ambitious financial professionals.

Keep in mind that succession planning is not just good for ensuring the continued success and reputation of your business; it’s good for your people, too. By identifying tomorrow’s leaders, you let top performers and promising recruits know you value their contributions and that there is a path for advancement within your company. This creates powerful motivation for them to be engaged employees who are eager to tie their career aspirations to your firm.

What steps have you found most helpful to start the succession planning process?

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