How having a succession plan now can help in the future.

Everyone who is a Saints fan like me knew how traumatizing  it was to discover Drew Brees was sitting out of one of his first games in over 10 years as the Saints Quarterback. I often wonder what it would be like without him as he is such a star on the field for us. When he got injured a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about how the Saints really need to develop someone into a leader with effective passing skills. Every fan in the NFL realizes if their star quarterback goes down it can affect their winning ability almost immediately. It would be like taking Peyton Manning out of the Denver Broncos game and hoping his backup would perform the same.

Succession planning is no joke, whether in the NFL or in the workplace. The results are similar based on how the company or team develop the next best leader for the organization. Having a CEO retire is something a lot of companies have to deal with sometime in the future. Unfortunately, everyone has an exiting date with a place or organization. Usually it takes months or years to find an equal replacement for senior leadership positions. Organizations can suffer on the front and back ends when leadership is not in place to fill the gaps left by the exiting party. 

Succession planning means determining ahead of time what team member or members would be a valuable asset to the company in the long run. Once this/these person(s) are determined, the company should then meet with the individual(s) to see if they feel the same way long term. If the feeling is mutual, the company can then set up development plans to educate and train the individual on how to handle the specific situations they encounter everyday. These development plans should not come from thin air, but should be formulated on the premise of feedback and suggestions of the person who is being succeeded. The successor should also have time to receive mentorship from the person who will leave in the future so they can be prepared for most situations.

I’ve seen many teams in the NFL lose games after a backup was put in the game, and it is shocking to discover how the team did not have a very efficient succession backup plan in place. Then again, we’ve seen those teams who end up winning more when the backup gets put into the game. I don’t know of any company who wants to put the faith of their employees in someone who is not ready to lead or run the operations efficiently and smoothly. The best way to deter this from happening is to ensure someone is developed and ready to take over the soon-to-be vacated position. 

Not all individuals who are thought to be the next-best-leader end up being fit for the role. The best way to discover this is to have multiple people on this development plan track. When going through leadership training and testing, one who will most likely not succeed will most likely show in their results. To be a leader requires special hard and soft skills like communication, people skills, motivational skills, tactfulness as well as ability to understand complex information and issues. The individuals who are unsuccessful should be removed and possibly developed into a different type of role which is not in leadership. The ones who are successful in their training and development track should be moved forward into the process.

In my last position, I recall a senior leader who was going to retire in a about a year. I immediately informed the VP how we needed to start a search for a leader within the organization and get her on a development track so she can move into this vacated postion in the future. The person was eventually chosen and moved into a leadership role to learn and understand the first part of the business she was going to handle. Once she mastered this part, she would then be mentored by the senior leader on the areas which were also required in order to be successful in the role. I just remember the individual was well fit for the role and appeared to have the tactfulness to work as a senior leader.

Whether it is starting quarterback or a senior leader, always have a plan in place to replace someone in the future; especially if you have knowledge of their eventual departure in the distant future. These individuals carry knowledge and skills which can be lost in an instant without a back-up plan. The responsibility of a succession plan falls with senior leadership and management. No company or organization wants to have to suffer a loss whether its losing games, money or employees, so be sure and work on getting your next best leader developed ahead of time. 

Here is a link to a really good article about how to implement a succession plan and the challenges one can face when implementing one.


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