Sean Elliot: 12 steps for succession planning

Sean Elliot, managing director of Network ROISean Elliot, managing director of Network ROI
Sean Elliot, managing director of Network ROI
We’ve all witnessed succession planning, possibly without thinking too much about it.

Recent high-profile examples of succession planning have seen Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson pass the baton to David Moyes. We’ve also seen Tim Cook taking charge of tech giant Apple following the untimely death of Steve Jobs.

Great leaders recognise one important thing: the show must go on, and this is true whether you are the chief executive of the world’s largest company or the managing director of a Scottish SME. You can plan for retirement, but sudden illness and death can often occur without warning and leave a business or family in tatters.

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Taking a holistic view of your business and asking yourself some simple questions will help you plan a business continuity and succession strategy for disaster recovery.

Here are twelve simple must-dos to prepare business for your absence:

1. Create a transition plan

Do you have a transition plan in place? It might be time to start. Writing a transition plan will let you identify the important milestones you need to cover to obtain a higher degree of business continuity.

Timescale: 1–4 weeks

2. Tell family and business advisors how you want things done

Have you told your family, lawyers and accountants how you’d like everything taken care of when you leave? Working with your lawyer, write a document that details the roles and responsibilities of your family, professional advisors and employees in your absence.

Timescale: 2 weeks

3. Identify areas of present and future growth and set objectives

What does the company do well? How is the market performing? How are your competitors performing? Do new opportunities exist? Think about the answers to all these questions and write them down, set objectives and actions.

Timescale: 1–5 days

4. Write and review your job description

What skills are required to do your job, and how will they be replicated in your absence? Write a list of your main duties as well as the intangible things such as punctuality, networking abilities and attention to detail – to name a few examples.

Timescale: An afternoon/evening

5. Analyse expertise gaps within the company

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You’ve got the people, but do they have the skills? Identify potential leaders within your company and start drawing up a development and mentoring plan.

Timescale: 1–5 days

6. Have a job-shadowing program

Succession creates an upward cascade effect, where the second in charge moves up to be first in charge and third in charge moves up to be second in charge and so on. Create a plan that allows key employees to shadow other important staff members to learn their roles, responsibilities and leadership challenges.

Timescale: 1–3 days

7. Challenge and test potential candidates

Sometimes, the best way to learn is to be thrown into the deep-end. Give challenging projects to potential leadership candidates to test their responses to difficult situations.

Timescale: Ongoing

8. Conduct one-to-ones with appraisals and feedback

How do you keep key employees motivated and on-track? Ask them the type of questions you face on a daily basis to test responses. Give honest feedback at all times to ensure they can understand why you would respond in a particular way.

Timescale: Ongoing

9. Look outside the company

Your most talented employees aren’t guaranteed to want the responsibility of being a leader. Have a look at the job market for new talent to fill your role if there are no suitable candidates within the company. They might turn out to be a great source of fresh ideas.

Timescale: 1–3 months

10. Remove all single points of failure

Are you the only person that can access bank accounts on behalf of the business? Identify all potential single points of failure for business-critical tasks and ensure more than one individual within the company has permission and access to important documents and accounts.

Timescale: 1 week

11. Talk to your accountant about tax

Having built a successful business and a small empire for you and your family, the last thing you want to do is give the tax man more than he is owed. Call your accountant and ask them to help you draw up a financial plan and ask about key-man insurance.

Timescale: 1–2 hours

12. Consider new ownership models such as employee ownership

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Investigate the benefits of employee ownership as well as other business models. Employee ownership is a great way to obtain longer-term business continuity, and also has tax benefits for business owners and employees. There is a lot of support available to help with the transition process.

Timescale: 1 month–5 years

Sean Elliot is managing director of Roslin-based IT services company Network ROI