Succession Planning - A Strategy for Uncertain Times

In today’s environment, a comprehensive succession plan is more important than ever. Comprehensive succession planning is more than just a way to replace retiring executives. Done right, a succession plan sets the stage to develop your team for anticipated growth and creates the ability to fill key roles when needed. Additionally, a strong succession plan creates redundant replacements in the event an organization finds itself suddenly needing to downsize, experiencing high absenteeism or high turnover, or facing other events that create gaps in critical positions. 

The COVID-19 situation underscores the need for a comprehensive and well executed plan to mitigate the risk of losing key institutional memory (tribal knowledge), skills, abilities, and expertise, as organizations navigate the unknowns. Following are a few succession planning strategies that can have immediate benefits in uncertain times.  

Create redundant relationships with external customers, stakeholders, and suppliers
Much of the activity that occurs in the world of business is drive by relationships. For example, the sudden departure of a sales person who has an exclusive relationship with a key customer can be devastating. The question then becomes whether the customer views your company as their trusted support for goods and services, or whether it was the sales person. It is critical that several people in an organization garner a high degree of trust with each key external relationship. This not only creates a smoother long-term transition when needed, it also provides for qualified backups who can flow to the work when there is a temporary disruption. 

Cross train so that several people can perform key functions and roles
Organizations may do this largely so that they can cover key activities when someone is on vacation. However, the need to fill in for a week or two during paid time off is different than filling in for a season or longer. Cross training should cover at least 80% of the job duties, with the remaining 20% discoverable through work instructions or another method of documentation or cross reference.  

Retain important intellectual capital by sharing information with others who may be a step or two away from the task or process
This is best accomplished by a combination of written information, standard operating procedures, and cross functional exposure to key processes and tasks. Sharing knowledge and information not only helps to mitigate risk when a key person is gone or out of reach, it increases the overall organizational IQ by leveraging the diversity that comes from different professional disciplines, personalities, and cultural perspectives understanding a process or task. Examples could include a financial planning and analysis person understanding how to perform part of the month-end close process, or a machine operator having a basic understanding of key preventative maintenance activities that are normally performed by the maintenance staff. 

A proactive plan to cross train and increase overall institutional knowledge and relational connections can have many benefits. The next COVID-19, whether it be a worldwide event or one that just impacts your organization, will be disruptive. Proper planning could greatly mitigate this risk.

About the Author
Shawn Miller is a principal at Morrison working primarily in our People Solutions practice. To get in touch with Shawn, please find contact information for Morrison here.


We’ve worked with a wide variety of clients on a broad range of projects and are happy to discuss solutions that can best fit your needs.

Get in Touch