Time to Groom Your Successor

11/16/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

Had Benjamin Franklin been a personnel executive, he might have reminded us about something else certain in this world besides "death and taxes." And that's job "succession."

None of us can keep our job forever. So why not play an active role in grooming your own successor? It makes a lot of sense — even in today's difficult economy.

Recently, I heard someone in the industry remark that many companies won't prepare successors because there's no place to promote them. Where's the logic in that? Eventually, every company or business situation changes, and if we don't have a contingency plan, we may be left in the dust.

It is in our enlightened self-interest to create a succession plan, to set the playing field for growth for ourselves, the department and the overall corporation. Even if your company is not looking to hire or promote, business eventually changes and now there's a plan in place for the next level of leadership, including you. Having a plan also forces us to be more innovative and creative in our day-to-day operations and that, in itself, can translate to more bottom-line dollars.

So how do you start the soul-searching process of replacing your most fabulous self?

1. Be very clear about the requirements of the job.
When you first took the job or formed your company, the demands were certainly different than they are today. Before you identify your successor, create a document that states the requirements of the job, the reporting structure, and other procedures — as they are today and likely will be in the future.

2. Identify the person who will best succeed you.
Many times, that person already is in your department waiting for the opportunity and most likely, you have been mentoring him or her all along. Sometimes it is an outsider.

If you are an entrepreneur with little infrastructure, start networking with possible candidates who will mesh with the personality of your company.

3. If you are promoting from within, show your potential successor the ropes.
Spend time carefully showing your successor the formal steps in your job, as well as its subtle nuances. Let yourself be "shadowed." Learn the ropes and teach the ropes.

4. Get that vision in check!
Create a vision for your people to follow, one that speaks to the aim of your company. Communicate that vision to your team, or if you're an entrepreneur, post it somewhere so you can see it daily. When you identify your successor, refine that vision together.

5. Here we go again!
Succession planning is a process that needs to occur constantly. In this way, you create a map for your people to be promoted and for your company to grow.

Whether you're retiring or just preparing for your own promotion, take the challenge to begin to create a succession plan. Give yourself a deadline and start making that roadmap. Make sure your own success is built into your own succession.

Dina Weinberg, CEO of MindLight Group, is an executive coach in the cable and television industries specializing in organizational change and effectiveness.

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