Succession planning IS success planning.
Recently I was reminiscing about the first major job shift I made. It was when I was in my early thirties and was looking for a change after being in the same position for almost a decade. I started thinking about how I wanted to be remembered when I moved on from my current work position. I was good at my job, but was I doing anything that made the company better than before I came, or was I just maintaining the status quo? Was I doing anything to prepare others to take on my responsibilities to ensure a smooth transition, or would I be leaving my coworkers in the lurch when it was time for me to move on? This is how I was introduced to the term succession planning.
Succession: Fear versus Opportunity
So many times when I hear people talk about succession planning, it’s either because they are preparing for their retirement or have been tasked to do so by their supervisor. Either way, it tends to be an afterthought or something that feels threatening. You think, If others are prepared to take on my responsibilities, they won’t need me, and I could be pushed out of my job.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Succession planning should go hand in hand with your career development plan. It’s something that should be used at every stage of your career.
Succession planning is not only about making sure that others will be prepared to fill your role when you leave; it’s also about what you are doing to prepare yourself for your next role. Succession planning is a lot like the magical elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It moves down, up, and sideways—it can even shoot right through the roof and land you in another company. What do you want your next position to be? Where do you want to work? How are you positioning yourself to take part in the succession plan of the person currently in the role you aspire to?
Basic Steps for Succession Planning
The basic steps used in succession planning for your own position can also be used in planning your successful move into your next position. I know many people don’t like to think about succession planning – but it is a fact of life. At some point you will need to leave your current job. It might be retirement, getting fired, being laid-off, getting promoted, or deciding to quit after you win the lottery. There are lots of reasons why someone moves on but moving on is inevitable. So why not be productive and plan for it in a positive way? All it takes is 3 easy steps.
1 Take It Seriously.
You need to give some real thought as to what tasks you currently do, the skills needed for those tasks, and the skills and tasks you would like to do in the future. Write all of these down! Writing it down helps you think it through and captures thoughts before you forget them. We can all talk about the generalities of what we do and want but writing allows us to drill down to the specifics. Writing also makes the process more real and shows a serious approach.
To be clear, you are making two lists – one list that specifies all the skills that you use in your current position, and another list that indicates the specific skills you want to utilize in your next position. This second list may take a little research. You may explore job descriptions in positions you strive for and you may want to interview the people in your dream positions. This will give you a better understanding of what skills you need to develop and practice.
“Everyone’s lives are a sort of succession, almost like handing the baton of your life off from one person to the next to the next to the next. And hopefully, that goes on for a long time, and the changes are healthy and interesting and not, like, spiraling into darkness.” —Robin Sloan
2 Think Creatively.
Focus on your two lists of skills. Think broadly about those you know who currently have or show an aptitude for the skills you currently use. We tend to restrict our ideas to those with whom we work most closely and those most familiar with the tasks. Focusing on the skills can broaden who you consider and allows you to consider introducing multiple people to your position. Ask others to help you identify those with the right potential skills. Spread the word and generate as many ideas as you can for people who might be poised to take on your role.
The second list, of skills for your desired position, can become the foundation of your individual professional development plan. These are the skills you need to receive training in, and you need to find opportunities where you can practice these skills. People want to hire those who not just have training in the needed skills, but those who can demonstrate that they can successfully implement those skills. By focusing on specific skills rather than just a vague position, it allows you to properly prepare for your next role.
3 Take Action.
You’ve done all the leg work, now you need to follow through and take action. You need to talk to all those people you identified with potential for your position and do everything in your power to provide them with opportunities. This will create a pool of potential candidates to fill your position when you move on. This is how you build up others for success.
In addition, you need to implement your plan to obtain and practice the skills you need for your next position. You need to start networking with people in those positions and request that they mentor you or help groom you for any upcoming openings. This is what will set you up for your own success.
Putting It All Together
If you love the position you are in and are no longer seeking to move into a different position, succession planning still applies to you. Remember, succession planning is really about success planning. What are you doing that will continue to make you successful in your position? What are you doing to help others be successful? Success is like a smile: best when shared, and frequently contagious.
I challenge you to conduct your own success and succession planning check. What have you done to help prepare others to take on your work responsibilities? What have you done to prepare yourself for your next position? I challenge you to put these plans in place and continually revise them so your success in life can be continuous.
Keep in mind that individual succession and success planning is different than an organization creating a process for succession. Individuals can focus solely on the mechanics of their position. Organizations must consider how that position fits into the larger picture and if the position, in its whole or its pieces, is still needed as the company grows and changes. The steps I’ve discussed are for the individual. The steps on the organizational level are different.
Revised July 2022. Oroginally published under The OD Pro in October 2019.