A succession plan can help your organization prepare to fill both expected and unexpected vacancies in critical senior-level positions, reducing productivity and other delays that may occur if you have to initiate a candidate search.
Organizations, though, need to do more than just identify the right people for significant roles.
Without also ensuring knowledge and job responsibilities will be effectively transferred to the individuals who assume those new roles, even the most carefully structured succession plan may fail to achieve favorable results.
Leadership transitions don’t always happen seamlessly. The companies the Center for Executive Success spoke with, for example, for its 2016 CEO succession survey, when asked what challenges they faced as their CEO prepared to leave, most often mentioned CEOs handing over or defining CEO and COO job responsibilities for the incoming leader.
Having distinct steps in place to help new parties fully move into senior-level positions can be crucial to their success.
The following suggestions can help your organization avoid potential succession plan roadblocks to facilitate the leadership transition process going smoothly:
Make entry a gradual progression
Half of the companies that have undergone a CEO succession in the past five years used a COO or president role as an opportunity to develop and evaluate a candidate before officially naming the person as the CEO, according to the Center for Executive Succession.
Instituting that kind of trial run — where an individual is in a position close to the one he’s a contender for — can help ease someone’s transition into the new role, if that occurs, by providing a bird’s-eye view of what the job entails. At the same time, the CEO has a chance to provide input about his potential successor and what specific competencies the person might or might not possess.
Even if an employee has worked alongside the person currently in the position, unless you’re dealing with a sudden vacancy that makes it impossible to pair the two individuals, schedule one-on-one training time before the leadership transition officially takes place.
If you know the person in the senior-level position will be exiting the organization in a matter of months or weeks, use that time to connect him with the new role recipient for a knowledge exchange to minimize any learning curves the new leadership member will face.
Ensure new role recipients understand what team members are doing
Only 38 percent of companies develop clear role profiles for direct reports to the CEO that are aligned with the company’s five or more year enterprise business strategy, according to the Center for Executive Succession’s report.
Whether someone is assuming a lower-level managerial, CEO or other senior-level position, even if the person is well-versed in his job responsibilities, having undefined items key team members should be tasked with and held accountable for can be a recipe for confusion.
External candidates aren’t unpopular choices for senior-level positions; roughly 25 percent of organizations choose a professional from outside of the organization to assume vacant chief executive officer roles, for example, instead of opting for an internal CEO succession candidate, according to research from the Institute of Executive Development and Stanford University.
Internal leadership transitions, however, can offer some advantages, in regard to transitioning. Even if specific strategy initiative, responsibility and other aspects of a new role haven’t been clearly conveyed, internally promoted candidates should, in theory, possess some institutional knowledge of the way the organization works and its overarching goals.
For more on how to plan for your succession needs, both internally and externally, and onboarding tips for high-level hires, read our blog posts on CEO recruitment, overcoming succession planning challenges and recruiting executive hires the right way.