Succession Planning Part 2: How

By Jeff Insco, UPBrand Founding Partner [President 2010 - 2023]

succession planning graphic

In my last post about succession planning I covered “the why.” Here are some thought-starters from experience and best practices about “the how.”

Consider Outside Advisory Support

If you’re like the rest of us, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of succession planning. It can feel daunting. Simply feeling confident about where to start can be perplexing. You don’t have to have all the answers now. Involving an executive coach or other business advisor as a thought partner can be immensely helpful. They can help you make wiser choices by bringing broader perspectives and lessons from contributing to succession planning scenarios multiple times. Together you can design a process and hold yourself accountable to your action steps. Like so many things in life and business… focus on generating progress one step at a time.

Define the Current & Future Role

It’s important to be mindful of the skills and talents that have served you well up until now. Some of them may be universally true for your role. Clarity about that can have positive impacts on performance and morale for your successor and the rest of the team. However, what got you here may not be adequate in the future. For instance, an intuitive understanding of today’s social media platforms and their data wasn’t as relevant to building my business as it has become for future success. It’s critical to look ahead and around corners about what’s happening in your industry in order to determine what might be needed in the future for someone in your role.

Look Inside First 

As I mentioned in my previous post, there’s data and plenty of case studies that support the idea of promoting from within. Is there anyone you see with the potential to grow into an even better leader than you? Engage them in a dialogue about the possibilities. It could be an exciting thing that drives even deeper engagement from them in the meantime. The thing is, succession planning is a two-way street. Just as you commit to the process with discipline and patience, so too should your future successor. Consequently, it could be a good idea to have more than one candidate for which you design a process. It’s not a sure thing that your successor remains patient and committed to the lengthy process.

Diversity Requires Intentionality

Many of us embrace the concepts of inclusion and belonging that derive from authentic diversity. It’s the right thing to do. And, empirically, more diverse teams make better decisions. However, we’ve learned diversity requires an intentional approach. Succession planning represents the opportunity to be purposeful in championing a culture welcoming of new people, ideas and perspectives. Nothing helps inspire diversity like having your leaders tangibly represent that concept by simply being who they are (in addition to leading initiatives that are right for your organization). What perspectives is your company lacking? Can those perspectives become an important factor in who you select as your successor?

Identify and Close As Many Gaps… As is Reasonable

Here’s some truth to remember… no one is ever the perfect choice or perfectly ready for the role. The key is to identify and prioritize the gaps of your potential successor based on how you’ve defined the forward looking version of your role. Not every gap HAS to be closed before that person is ready. There’s efficacy in learning by doing. The key is to identify what gaps absolutely must be closed prior to that person taking the role and building a reasonably time-based, measurable action plan to get them ready – with their active involvement designing the plan. Here’s another place where outside counsel can help. 

Check In and Verify

The succession planning process will conjure up a bunch of emotions… many which can be challenging and can create some procrastination. Keep building momentum by setting explicit check-ins in comfortable time intervals based on the agreed development plan. You can add to the quality of your effort by gathering feedback along the way from colleagues and partners. Doing so helps keep the process objective along the way. 

Celebrate & Communicate Progress

Remember the succession planning process is just that, a process. It’s a journey that’s all about generating progress that should be acknowledged along the way. Implement a communications campaign within your organization and with key customers and partners to keep everyone informed of your intentions and progress. This also creates a valuable feedback loop that supports your process and deepens relationships.  Most importantly, celebrate the hell out of progress… especially the big moments. Doing so builds confidence for you, your successor and the rest of the team. Confidence in leadership is a critical factor to realizing the success in succession.  I welcome your questions and feedback. What else have you found valuable to include in “the how? of succession planning?”   Note: Crafted in its entirety by humans, with limited input from AI.