OpX Insights

Fall, Football, and Succession Plans

written By Mike Leigh

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I enjoy the weather, changing leaves, Thanksgiving food, and football (especially the Green Bay Packers!).  As I’ve watched football this season, it has occurred to me that businesses and organizations can learn something from how football teams train and develop their players.

In football, it’s inevitable that a member of the team will get injured and the “next man up” must fill in.  Talent depth is important, because when those injuries occur, a strong replacement player can mean the difference between wins and losses.  To ensure they are ready, football teams train multiple players for each position.

It’s not much different in business.  The loss of quality team members will eventually occur due to retirement, medical leave, or “a better offer.”  But many organizations do not adequately prepare for the loss.  Take a minute and think of the leaders and specialists in your organization that you can least afford to lose.  What happens when they go on vacation?  What would happen if tomorrow they were hit by the proverbial beer truck?  Or win the lottery?

If the thought of losing key team members makes you break into a cold sweat, you probably need to work on your succession plan.  The Society for Human Resource Management defines succession planning as a means for an organization to ensure its continued effective performance through leadership continuity.  Although a thorough plan can be quite complex, there are a few basic steps:

  1. Identify the positions and employees that are critical to your operations.
  1. Identify the key knowledge and skills required for those positions.
  1. Identify at least one person to fill each position when it becomes vacant.
  1. Create a development plan (and act on it) to close any knowledge and skill gaps.

For those organizations that do put together a succession plan, the first three steps are usually completed, but the fourth one is not.  The reasons for this vary, but there are a couple actions you can take to help your plan along.

First, review your important operations to determine if the supporting processes have been standardized.  Are your key functions “people-centric” or “process-centric”?  If you have employees that you rely on heavily and no one understands what that employee does, it could be a problem.  Imagine trying to train and develop substitute players on a football team without a playbook.  It’s imperative to identify, standardize, and document your key processes so that you can determine the knowledge and skills needed to train a backup or replacement.

Second, you must make a commitment to your plan by budgeting funds and scheduling time to work on it.  Succession planning does not seem urgent (until it’s too late), so it often gets little priority.  You have to make it a priority.  Develop a systematic program to cross-train and develop your employees.  Assign action steps and deadlines, and track your plan regularly.

Strong succession planning enables future growth, maintains smooth operations, and keeps your team in the game.  Now get out there and win!  Go Pack Go!