Succession Planning and Testing – Who Will Step Up to the Plate?

3 min read
February 1, 2021 at 9:52 AM

Succession planning is so important to organizations, yet so often overlooked. Many folks are not really sure what it is. For those that get the idea of it, many are at a loss for where to start. In the next couple of minutes, I will take you through what succession planning is, how to successfully implement a meaningful succession plan for your organization, and how to test it.

What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is the process put in place by an organization to ensure that a job or function can still be performed effectively in the event that an employee leaves the company, retires, passes away, or is otherwise rendered unable to continue filling their current role. This process is often overlooked by organizations for various reasons. Maybe it is a small organization, consisting of the same five or so employees for the past 10 years and the topic of succession planning never came up because no one considered that someone would be leaving. In a scenario like this, succession planning is even more critical because if one key person leaves, the organization could be in serious trouble without a plan in place that would effectively cover all the critical functions performed by the recently departed employee. The other facet to this is testing of your succession plan. You can have a plan in place, but if it isn’t good you are in just as bad a place as an organization without a plan. It is important to note that all organizations, regardless of their size or industry should have a succession plan in place and test it.

Implementing a Succession Plan

So now that we know the importance of a succession plan, how do we go about implementing one the right way? There are many different ways to do this, but at Compass IT Compliance, we believe in a proactive approach. For all job roles and critical functions that your organization has or is looking at implementing, there needs to be a plan in place if the person responsible is not reachable for whatever reason. Right from the point of hiring someone into your organization, you want to be clear on the functions of that role and make sure that they can all be performed by at least one other individual within the organization, or perhaps even by an outside resource (a vendor or contractor), if needed. In addition to this, you want to hire quality individuals that would be open to cross training and seeing what talents they have that could be utilized to step into other roles of your organization. Cross training is a valuable approach for all organizations to at least consider, but that is a topic for another blog post.

While performing various risk assessments across different frameworks, we typically will ask questions such as:

If X person won the lottery today (we try to avoid the negative “got hit by a bus” cliché) and was never heard from by your organization again, would someone else be able to step in and perform their critical functions in a timely fashion?

Questions like this really get members of the team thinking. Sometimes we get yes as a response, but often times they will think hard about it and will realize that in the event that a critical member of the team is out for whatever reason, they may not be prepared.

To implement a successful succession plan we recommend starting with the organizational chart. Go through each role and ask: if this person did not come back to work, who do we have that could step up and perform their critical functions? Another approach is to start with all critical functions in an organization, perhaps from a recent business impact analysis (BIA) as it should have all critical functions and owners in the organization. A huge part to this is documentation for all critical functions, as well as cross-training wherever possible. Additionally, it is important to have backups to all critical employees and to let them know that in dire circumstances they may be counted on to perform roles they may not be used to doing in certain situations.

Testing Your Succession Plan

The testing of the succession plan can be similar to how you would test a business continuity plan, or incident response plan. You can pretend person X is out for whatever reason and see if their backup, or backups, know how to perform the critical functions of that individual at a level where your production as an organization does not drop off. Going through this exercise will reveal any gaps and lessons learned where you can focus your cross-training efforts to be sure that in the future, anyone stepping in knows what to do. Another great practice is when an individual is out on vacation and someone is covering for them, really pay attention to what they know and where the gaps are, taking notes as needed. Contact us today to learn more about succession planning and how we can assist in strengthening your plans!

Contact Us

Get Email Notifications

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think