Supporting Succession Planning
The whole idea of succession is counterintuitive to the notion of survival of the fittest.
If we believe in Darwin’s theory, then we believe that to survive in the business world, we need to be not only the best, but be better than everyone else. To win that game, we need to keep a lot of information to ourselves. We don’t want to give away our secrets to success because it can endanger our ability to keep ourselves on top. We want to do everything that we can to ensure that we are absolutely essential to our employers. We want to be the only person able to do our jobs.
But to keep our company healthy, we must train a successor. Not doing this puts the survival of the organization in jeopardy because realistically, no one stays in the same job forever. To be able to mitigate the needs of employees who are leaving their roles, companies need to learn to be both sensitive and proactive to the issues of change. In essence, companies need to give a lot of thought to succession and put measures in place to make sure that it happens properly.
Being Put out to Pasture
The first aspect of dealing with this issue is recognizing the problem. People fundamentally do not want to be obsolete. They don’t want someone to do what they do better than them. People become very protective of their territory, and of their ideas. They don’t want to share what they know if sharing means that someone else will take what they have built, and run with it.
More than this is the definition of self once a person no longer has a job. People define themselves by what they do and not having the ability to wake up and tell people that they do the job that they have been doing creates a whole loss of identity. If you want people to be able to pass on knowledge and to create successful succession, you need to know that they are feeling this way. Acknowledge that it is a fact. When people feel understood, they are less fearful.
We have an aging work force. People are getting older and we don’t have enough people to fill their jobs. Does leaving a position necessarily mean leaving the company? Create a mentoring program to use the knowledge base of your aging workers, especially if they have been an asset to your company for many years. Don’t let them mentor their direct successor; let them work with someone else in the company. Knowing that you still have a function after your current job is done makes passing on information to the next guy much easier. Letting them know that there is still a place for them after their current role can make giving up the reins much easier.
Good succession is directly dependent on company culture. If you expect everyone in your organization to always be preparing for the “what if” of leaving their job, then your succession will go much more smoothly. Preparing for a successor to take over should be part of everyone’s objectives for the year and they should be asked about it in their performance reviews. Succession should be talked about at company meetings. People should share their ideas and best practices. Let the conversation be on the table instead of being this thing that has to happen that no one talks about.
Your company culture can go even further than just being open to the idea of succession. Your company can be a collaborative work environment where people share knowledge and understand each other’s jobs. Instead of having an organization that is hierarchical, where people know what they do but not what the person in the next cubicle does, create a place where people understand each other’s functions in the company and where they can step in to each other’s roles easily. In this kind of workplace, succession becomes a non-issue because being replaceable is built into the way that things are done.
It would be unreasonable to think that people are going to openly embrace the idea of having someone else fill their shoes. No one wants to imagine that they won’t be needed one day but succession becomes a positive thing when the focus is on the survival of the company and not on the survival of the individual.