Good succession planning is one of the many skills an effective manager should develop. If you are working in a larger business as a people and capability professional or team leader, you may be working on this for the entire organisation. Even if you manage a small team, or are within a smaller organisation, you no doubt play a key role in identifying people with the potential to move up.
Just before Christmas, a friend of mine in the FMCG sector was heading to work on a sunny Monday morning and looking forward to a busy week. His succession planning last year was top notch. He understood the personalities, skills and potential of everyone in his team. If someone resigned, he had a plan and that felt like a good place to be.
That morning, his top performer was waiting in the car park and she wanted to go straight into a meeting room. Boom. She resigned. 4 weeks notice, including 2 weeks leave and the Christmas public holidays. Ouch.
The succession plan was really useful but it didn’t prepare him for the actual resignation. It was a total shock.
Effective succession planning
The best manager I ever worked for was a good succession planner. In the years since we worked together, I have realised why his flavour of succession planning was so very effective. He didn’t ask “What will we do when someone resigns?”, but rather “who is going to resign and how can I plan ahead now?”. There’s clearly a big difference.
How to approach the conversation with your staff
If you start asking your new recruits when they plan to quit as soon as they arrive, you probably won’t get a good reaction. However, once a team member is on board and trust develops, honest conversations about career plans and goals become much easier to have.
The good managers I know who have these conversations with their teams do a couple of things to prepare before they start:
1. They accept everyone is going to resign and move on at some point. Put simply, they decide not to take it personally.
2. They prepare for the conversation by thinking about the mutual benefit – how can both manager and team member win from talking about career plans and when the team member might move on? This is really important if the conversation is going to be a productive one.
If your team member sees fair and valuable give-and-take in the conversation, the conversation will probably go a lot further.
A great example of mutual benefit is identifying learning and training you can provide to your team member. Investing in someone who is going to leave may seem unwise, but don’t forget – everyone is going to leave at some point. Relevant training provided to the right person should help keep them longer, increase their performance and commitment to the job.
Not convinced this is a good conversation to have with your team? Look at it from their point of view.
The opportunity for your team members to tell you what they think they’re capable of and where they want to be a in a year or two can be an empowering experience for them.
Making it clear they can be open about their plans to move on from the business or into another department removes some familiar pressures. Living a double life of secretive interviews and making sure no-one spots your LinkedIn upgrade is rarely fun.
The message that you care about their plans and future is a real trust builder and more likely than not to put them into a good head space and encourage improved performance.
So where are the negatives in having these conversations with your team?
Some won’t welcome the conversation of course. The team member who is convinced your competitor is a better option or who just doesn’t want to share their aspirations to become a circus acrobat probably won’t open up. But if some, or the majority, do respond and choose to share, then your efforts will be worth your time and energy.
So what’s in it for you?
Let’s go back to my FMCG friend as he sat down in the meeting with his top performing account manager.
“Great to hear your plans have worked out,” he says. Although, he had identified a few months ago that a resignation was on the horizon and had been actively working on the succession plan ever since, he didn’t know when it would happen because he never had the conversation. And like many things in our professional lives, it came at an unexpected moment. Ouch.
Having open and honest conversations about future goals with your team throughout their employment will help you be prepared for moments like these.