Who Will Fill Your Shoes?

By Heather Baldwin
Here’s a question most sales managers don’t want to think about: If you were hit by a bus on your way to work tomorrow, who would fill your position? Would that person be qualified and ready to hit the ground running? If you don’t know the answer, you could be setting up your organization for disaster, says William Rothwell, author of the third edition of Effective Succession Planning: Ensuring Leadership Continuity and Building Talent from Within (AMACOM, 2005).
“Organizational leaders need to think about aligning their staffing and leadership needs with the organization’s future strategic objectives,” says Rothwell. That way they’ll be prepared when their top sales rep leaves for the competition or when baby boomers submit their retirement notices. Here, says Rothwell, are the essential components of a succession planning program.
State a purpose. Establish why a succession planning program is needed and formalize it in a mission statement. (Do not assume that all executives in your organization will share the same objectives; they most likely will not, says Rothwell.) The mission statement should address why an organization is undertaking a systematic succession planning program and what outcomes stakeholder groups desire from it. Don’t skip this step. Many companies that launch programs that ultimately fail neglect to first establish a purpose.
Develop measurable objectives. What measurable results are desired from the program over time? You might focus on factors such as the number of positions to be filled, the length of time required to fill them and the number of key positions to be filled over a given time span.
Identify competencies needed for success today. Leaders must understand the present before they can plan for the future. What kind of person is needed to be a successful performer in key positions today? What are the work requirements in those positions?
Assess how those competencies are measured. Evaluate how well the organization’s performance management system is measuring present competencies. “That is needed,” says Rothwell, “because you only want to promote those who are succeeding in their current jobs.”
Identify competencies needed for success in the future. What kind of person is needed to be a successful performer in key positions in the future, if the organization is to realize its strategic objectives?
Evaluate how your organization assesses potential. In other words, how do you know that people would succeed at a future, higher level of responsibility if you have never seen them perform at that level? Think of this as measuring current performance against future job challenges or identifying gaps in skills used today versus skills needed for a future position. For example, does your top sales rep, who might be identified as your potential successor, have the counseling and coaching skills needed to succeed as a sales manager?
Narrow the gaps. In this step, organizations must determine how they will narrow the gaps between people’s present job requirements and performance and their future targets. What does they need to know or do to be ready for more difficult responsibility?
Evaluate the results. Put a mechanism in place that will enable you to determine whether your succession planning program is achieving its mission and accomplishing its measurable objectives.