You are the CEO of a midsize company. One morning, one of your key VPs knocks on your door and gives two weeks’ notice.
You begin frantically working to find a replacement, but that will take several months, plus several more to acclimate the new hire to the role in order to be effective. What can you do now to prepare for the eventuality of key employees leaving, to ensure a minimum of disruption to the organization’s performance?
In a large company, this is a different issue. Large companies have entire planning departments in human resources devoted to succession planning and executive development. But a small to midsize firm will not necessarily devote resources to succession planning.
Here are some best practices for “succession planning light.”
Expand scope of responsibilities of key reports to VP or C-suite executives — it is often not viable to promote a key report into the role of the department head. Nevertheless, this person or people should in an organized and proactive way be given incrementally more responsibility. Even executive vacations are an opportunity for key reports to stretch their wings.
When possible, move mid-level executives cross-functionally for several quarters.
Have access to consultants who are familiar with the company’s operations who can step in — this falls on the CEOs to keep their networks strong cross-functionally.
Stay on good terms with employees who have left. You never know when you might need them again, as a consultant or even an employee.
Concentrate on developing superior management. A fact-based corporate operating culture, based on continuous improvement and documented best practices, will allow outsiders to step in and be more effective quickly. Conversely, a rigid culture based on decisions made long ago will create change management challenges.
A company that is oriented to grow and change in a disciplined and creative fashion will also have advantages when refilling key roles. A well-managed function should manage itself for several months based on key processes put in place by the previous incumbent.
Isaac Cheifetz, a Twin Cities executive recruiter, can be reached through catalytic1.com.