How critical is your job? Is it viewed as a key position? If you left the company or all of a sudden got hit by that proverbial bus that seems to be going around the world taking people out, would the company be able to keep moving forward without losing a step? Have you even thought about it?

If you don't know whether or not a position (whether it's yours or one that reports to you) is key, I recommend that you start with an analysis of positions that if left vacant would not allow you to meet your business needs. Ask yourself these questions about positions you believe could be "key":

  1. Does this position require scarce, specialized skills to deliver a product or service?
  2. Does this position have critical influence over operations or strategy?

If the answered "yes" to either question, it's probably a key position. As a result, you need to think about an appropriate succession plan for that post.

But is succession planning really important? Is it worth the time and effort? Isn't succession planning built into the organization already? Isn't that why you have vice presidents, directors and managers in place or, as is often the case with small businesses, a son or daughter waiting to take the wings once dad retires (or gets hit by that bus)?

All you have to do to understand the value of succession planning today is look at Wall Street. More and more, Wall Street analysts are putting true market value on a company's succession plan. GE, PepsiCo and IBM are just a few of the companies that have benefited in the market due to strong recognized succession plans at the "C" level. And while large companies have set the pace for formalizing succession plans, it's really the small to medium-sized companies that need it the most.

So, what does a successful succession plan look like? Once you identify an heir, are you done? Of course, the answer is "no". Succession planning is a dynamic initiative that can change quickly with the natural movement of employees. In fact, succession planning is more than a plan, it's a systematic process. The reality is that most companies do not have a sufficient process in place to ensure that succession planning is always current and relevant. These companies end up going through a tumultuous time when key positions turn over.

Companies that have the right plan in place share the following qualities.

MAKE A COMMITMENT
Like any initiative, success is unlikely without commitment. Leaders must be committed and willing to put in the necessary time and energy to properly implement the system. Problems with current practices must be analyzed, the need must be demonstrated, and a system with specific guidelines and policies must be developed.

COMPETENCY ANALYSIS
Leaders must analyze the competencies of both the key positions and the current workforce so they can understand what gaps exist today and in the future. Behaviors, abilities, skills and knowledge requirements must be defined in the job and assessed in the individuals.

DEVELOP YOUR TALENT
As managers, nothing is more important than developing the necessary talent around you. Developing talent is more than just sending them to training classes. The real foundation for talent development is found in the daily activities of management. These activities consist of the following: 1) Assess what people need in order to develop; 2) Give them experiences that will develop their talent while, at the same time, getting the work done; and, 3) Provide them with useful, specific and timely feedback - stated in a tactful and positive way - that will give them the value of your input in doing it better while also showing that you appreciate their best efforts.

CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE
Succession planning isn't a static event. It must be continuously evaluated and improved to ensure you are fully prepared and that it is working. Leaders who have their succession plan locked away in a drawer until it's needed are doomed to failure.

Finally, you need to ensure that your succession planning is aligned with your mission and core values so that you identify successors who are on the same page with your company strategy and culture.

John Ha is the president of Reliability Careers, a provider of workforce solutions for the reliability and maintenance industry. This business not only provides traditional recruiting and sourcing services for companies but is dedicated to help clients with overall talent management, including recruitment and selection, performance management and coaching, and employee development and training. For individual career-seekers, the firm finds top-flight opportunities in the reliability and maintenance field. Contact John at 918-388-2438 or e-mail info@reliabilitycareers.com.