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Succession Planning Is Critical In Uncertain Times

May 2022
Peter Deragon
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Now is the time to start thinking about the future of your leadership positions

Business leaders can’t just focus on the day-to-day operations of their company. They need to think ahead, as well. Leaders, especially in the C-suite, must simultaneously consider where their business is in the present as well as where it will be months and even years into the future.

One of the most critical areas to address is the future of their own positions. Succession planning, particularly further up the org chart, is a critical element at any time. With the business landscape in such a state of flux at the moment, though, planning for the future has become a necessity.

Reasons For Succession Planning In Uncertain Times

Succession planning always takes time. Cultivating talent to fill an empty position never happens overnight. When things are uncertain, though, the need for a plan becomes imperative.

To use current events as an example, there are countless factors threatening business stability. We’ve just emerged from a pandemic that fundamentally changed how business takes place across the globe. 

On top of that, we’re still dealing with the repercussions of that event through things like supply chain shortages and backlogs. Add in the fact that Europe is teetering on the brink of an additional economic crisis due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and things could take a very bleak turn for the worse at any moment.

Even if the worst doesn’t happen, change will still continue to happen. A good example of this comes through Big Tech’s struggle with how to incorporate in-office and hybrid work back into a post-pandemic world.

Some changes are even good, albeit still changes. For instance, many companies are beginning to migrate into the Metaverse. This is sparking a new era in how we can conduct 21st-century business.

The point is that the concept of “uncertain times” doesn’t have to equate to a global apocalypse. Even good change can impact a business, for better or for worse, which is why succession planning is so important.

“Succession planning is a perpetual activity, and there are many ways that things can go wrong over time.”

Succession planning can be broken down into the following three phases:

  1. Identify priorities. Start by looking for the most vulnerable positions in your company. These are often areas with limited talent. This lack of redundancy means it will be harder to fill the position should it become vacant. Figure out what roles in your company are the highest priority at the moment and use that as a starting point for your planning.
  2. Assess what you need to fill gaps. Once you’ve identified your priorities, start to assess what you need to do to fill each gap. Research, record, and organize information regarding what it takes to function at a high level in each job. This information is invaluable if you find that you suddenly lose someone and can’t access them to help train a replacement. It also helps guide the third step in the succession planning process.
  3. Find quality talent. Once you know your needs in detail, you can begin to consider candidates to potentially fill each position in the future. This isn’t just a one-for-one replacement. You want to consider multiple candidates, if possible, at any given moment. The National Institute of Health (NIH) refers to this as a “talent pipeline.” These individuals don’t necessarily have to be ready to step into the position right away. However, this phase is when you identify who could be a replacement and how long it will take to prepare them to be effective.

Critical Factors For Succession Planning

When you’re preparing a succession plan, it’s important to keep the following things in mind:

  1. Stay flexible. Remember, you’re playing the long game. Things will change. You can’t predict everything. For instance, few people saw the Great Resignation before it struck, causing massive talent deficits across the board. Even 1,231 CEOs quit their jobs between January and November 2021. As you plan, always be ready to adapt to ongoing conditions and circumstances.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait until someone retires or dies to start a long, drawn-out succession plan. This creates unnecessary chaos and pressure, which inevitably leads to poor decision-making. Instead, take action now in the hopes of a smoother transition in the future.
  3. Decentralize Knowledge. Siloed knowledge is your enemy when succession planning (as it is in many other areas of business). Decentralizing your company’s knowledge should be a priority when succession planning. Make an effort to share information whenever possible. In addition, conduct cross-training to expand the resiliency and depth of your team’s skills.
  4. Work with the right people. Finally, make sure you have the right people nearby to help when things go south. Succession planning is a perpetual activity, and there are many ways that things can go wrong over time. If a succession plan fails — or, even worse, there isn’t a proper plan in place before someone dies or leaves your organization — you want professional and experienced help nearby. The Stanton Chase Los Angeles team has spent years helping companies fill critical talent gaps in the C-suite and other essential areas of leadership. If you find that you aren’t prepared for a succession crisis, we can put our knowledge, experience, and network of professional connections to work to help fast-track a solution.

“Succession planning is a perpetual activity, and there are many ways that things can go wrong over time.”

Succession planning remains a cornerstone element of long-term business success. With so much uncertainty around us, make sure you’re addressing the concept of succession within your organization.

About the Author:

Peter Deragon is the Managing Director of Stanton Chase Los Angeles, and as Global Practice Leader of the Supply Chain, Logistics, and Transportation Practice Group, Peter is also active in the CFO Practice Group and financial services, where he started his career.

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