Succession planning is like a flight of stairs. It’s a set route with stages in place to elevate a person to a higher level. In succession planning, there are essentially three steps.

1. Identifying the Critical Positions in Your Company.  These are people that organisations simply can’t function without. Top management may be obvious, but there’s also middle management and new-hires to consider. If it has recently hired a person into a company, especially in the current economy, then they are probably crucial to at least one aspect of an operation. What would happen if they left? Are they the only one? Look for opportunities to cross-train in the case that something should happen. This has the added benefit of giving employees visibility into the future of their careers, thus providing security, loyalty, and engagement. The same goes for middle management; some are probably nearing retirement age and will need to be replaced in the near future. Look at what makes these people special and essential, and find similar attributes in other employees. Knowing the key roles in an organization is the obvious first step toward succession planning.

2. Identify and Assess Potential Successors. This step entails finding the high- potential and high-performing individuals in an organization and aligning their personality and behavioural traits with the needs of roles that will later have to be filled. Once these top candidates are identified, upper management and leadership throughout the company need to get involved in the process. They can also help identify people whose talents were not as obvious.  These leaders then must take on a mentoring role and start developing and grooming the individuals they deem exceptional, so that when the time inevitably comes, they will be able to take the mantle of leadership in a smooth, worry-free transition. This development process needs to be committed to and maintained throughout the entire life of the company.

3. Keep a Database on Hand. This database should be full of information gained through the initial company-wide succession planning set-up. As new employees come into the organization, their job-fit criteria, competencies, skills, and weaknesses should be recorded and added to the database, including their personality and behavioural traits. That way, when the first wave of transition begins, a sort of Rolodex of potential candidates will be at hand to continue the process. The executives will already know who has the potential to be promoted, and will be able to match the next generation of leaders into the right job-fit more easily, matching them with the duties and responsibilities that maximise performance, employee morale, and company success. Applicant Tracking Systems enable executives and managers to source, screen, manage, and promote exceptional talent. With these procedures in place, a successor will be ready to effectively transition into their new leadership role without any panic, crisis, or public anxiety.

While some business models and management styles aren’t for everyone, succession planning is. When most people think of succession planning, their mind goes to images of big corporations with lots of stakeholders—and for good reason. However, succession planning is as important to small and mid-size businesses as it is to enterprises. Both small and mid-sized businesses need to follow the same succession protocol as larger corporations. Regardless of size, succession planning needs to be a top priority for any business that wants to continue for generations to come.

Succession planning improves employee commitment and engagement, accelerates career development, and is not only cost-effective, but, in many instances, profitable. Companies that want to succeed need to identify those already in the company that can fill leadership vacancies, and invest in their development and grooming until the time comes to take on an upper management role.

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These assessments can help you identify those top performers who will make the best transition into leadership roles when the time comes. One thing is for sure; a successful organization must have a succession program in place if it plans to endure in the long-term.