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Planning and identifying successors to key positions

By Clara Michaud

Looking for an effective means to a competitive edge? Make sure you have a succession plan for your company’s key positions.

That way you will ensure you always have the right people in the right places, and you’ll benefit from a major advantage over most SMEs. According to a survey conducted by the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés, less than one quarter of Quebec companies fewer than 100 employees have a succession strategy for their key positions.

Succession planning and identifying the best potential candidates for key positions is a fairly simple exercise that can be invaluable to your company, even if you have a small workforce. Have you thought about what would happen if your number two left without warning? Or if you obtained a major contract that meant you had to rethink your company’s management structure?

Succession planning is essential to preparing for the future and managing risks. We suggest a three-phase approach.

1. Assess the impact of your business strategy on your staff
Succession management measures should be part of your annual strategic planning exercise, where you analyze your business environment, set objectives for the short, medium and long term, and establish strategies to meet those objectives.

Are you planning to expand your range of services or products? Are you interested in tapping into new markets or capturing a new client segment? You need to think about what impact your business strategy might have on your team. Should you plan for training, recruitment or movement of personnel?

2. Design and set up a structure to meet your goals
In light of your strategic priorities, determine how many employees and key positions you need, both now and in the future.

Draw up the main responsibilities for each position. What kind of candidate profiles and skills are you looking for? Do you need highly specialized individuals? If so, are they already on staff? If not, how do you plan to recruit them? Would it be better to use freelancers for certain tasks?

3. Identify the best potential candidates
Perhaps you already have all the key employees you need to successfully implement your development strategy. But if one of them leaves, is there another person at your company with the right skills to take over quickly? And if you create a key position that requires knowledge of the company’s inner workings, have you thought about which employee can take that on?

In other words, have you identified the best potential candidates within your company? To that end, you should consider their performance in their current position as well as their growth potential.

The annual review process is a simple and effective tool, as it provides an assessment of their skills, strengths, progress and aspirations. If you think any of your employees could make excellent managers, now’s the time to find out if they’re interested in moving up the ranks and come up with ways to develop their skills (internal mentoring, training, coaching, etc.).

Another good way to prepare for succession is to give the best candidates opportunities for development. Progressively increase their responsibilities, assign them special projects, or have them manage a few employees or coordinate the operations of part of the team.

Warning! Don’t confuse performance with potential. An employee who posts a very good performance does not necessarily have the right skills—or the interest and motivation—to be a manager or to move up in the company. If necessary, you can use tools such as psychometric tests and potential appraisals to properly assess a candidate’s potential for progress.

Need help with your company’s succession planning? Feel free to contact our experts, who will be happy to advise you.