Succession plans a necessity for businesses

November 16, 2012 

Every business should have succession plans for its key personnel as part of its overall strategic plan. It is critical to identify personnel vulnerabilities and determine how you might overcome them. It is so easy to ignore these issues, but doing so puts the firm in a very precarious position.

I was helping a firm that had lost a key executive to an unexpected illness. When I was called in, the firm was reeling from the loss of this very well-liked executive. In addition to the staff's grief, the business was in dire straits as they had been unable to find a replacement. Without someone to take over, the executive's work fell to his staff who lacked the necessary experience. As a result, the profitability of the firm fell dramatically. Had this firm had a succession plan in place, it would have been in a much better position.

Succession planning must address the loss of key staff members both in the event they pass away suddenly or become significantly incapacitated and in the event they simply retire. The difference between these two situations, of course, is how much time you have to find a replacement.

There are two general ways a business can work through the unexpected loss of key personnel. One way would be to ensure that the remaining staff is able to pick up the slack. That way, the business can keep moving forward until a replacement is found either by promotion or a new hire. A second alternative would be to hire someone who can come in and

fill the role on a temporary basis. There are many firms out there that specialize in locating temporary CEOs or CFOs.

When planning for the retirement of a key executive, you can take one of two approaches. Firstly, you can groom a successor in advance so the person is ready to step in once the executive steps down. This plan should involve providing any requisite training and experience.

If the firm is small, however, providing the necessary training may be cost prohibitive. In the event grooming an internal candidate is not a feasible option, the business can hire a replacement in advance of the retirement, which would allow the successor an opportunity to work alongside the executive, thereby helping ensure a smooth transition. Of course, as with all hiring decisions, a significant amount of time and money should be invested in finding the right person for the key position.

Now go out and make sure you have succession plans in place for your key personnel. It is important to be prepared to take action in the event of loss through retirement or an unanticipated event.

Jerry Osteryoung, the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship emeritus, can be reached at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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