Firm leaders often think extensively about retention methods for their teams. The focus is generally more on retention than succession planning. While retention is important and should always be the goal for your top talent, we would be remiss if we didn’t also consider the succession plan for the key members of our teams, especially your leadership team. The ultimate goal is to always retain your best players but to be prepared and have a plan for their eventual departure. Unfortunately, attrition is a fact of life, and preparing for inevitabilities in business separates great leaders from good ones.
An effective coach always has a plan for who they will put in the game if one of the starting players needs to come out, right? Your team members may eventually retire, or they may legitimately need to move on elsewhere in order to follow their career goals. You may even find yourself needing to support their decision to move on from your firm. So as much as you may wish to and attempt to retain them, you also need to make sure you have a plan for their departure. In this week’s blog, we’ll examine the concept of succession planning as it applies to your team, especially your leadership positions.
What’s the problem?
So why aren’t firm leaders better at succession planning with their teams? It often boils down to the awkwardness of it. Questions that can make us squirm can come up like:
Team members may be hesitant to come to you and tell you about their potential to ever work elsewhere. That’s understandable. Certainly, they would not want to jeopardize their position and future opportunities with you and your firm. On the other hand, firm leaders may feel it is an awkward topic to broach because they don’t want team members to feel they lack confidence in their ability to succeed. So, the whole topic becomes the elephant in the corner of the room, ignored… until it’s possibly too late.
What is even more unfortunate is that there might be more growth opportunities for your firm’s leadership team than they realize. If you don’t take the time to plan out what your organization’s future looks like, and include your leadership team in that vision, they may be operating under the assumption that the best growth opportunities for them lay elsewhere.
How to fix it
You need to be proactive in discussing career plans with your team. Remove the stigma and the awkwardness, and try to be supportive. Being familiar with the career goals of your top leaders will give you the edge. You will have the opportunity to see if you can accommodate that path within your firm. If their career goals truly cannot be accommodated within your firm, you will need to reach a place of understanding, support, and compassion with that team member. That simple act of grace and generosity is often paid back to forward-thinking leaders exponentially in time. By working to get ahead of potential issues and problems, you create more time to build your 2nd string players up and equip them to take over eventually or recruit new leaders into your firm.
Switch the mindset- instead of thinking, “Is my 2nd string player ready to step up?”, you’ve got to proactively think, “What do we need to do to get this player ready?” If you have been supportive of their succession plans, then your incumbent team members are more likely to lend a helpful hand in preparing their successors for the role. You should always be thinking about the eventual successor for your key positions. Make a habit of continuous planning so that you are never caught off guard.
So how do you remove the stigma and make the topic of succession more comfortable to discuss openly with your team? It helps if you have created a culture of openness and trust amongst your team with a positive growth mindset. But it boils down to your ability to look at the process objectively. It’s easy for our personal feelings and our own goals to cloud our thinking process during these hard conversations. You will need to balance having empathy for your team members and their desires with being able to make clean, objective decisions for your firm.
The takeaway: There is a human component to this process that has to be balanced with strategic business decisions.
You will need to step back and look at the whole situation objectively. You will need to candidly and carefully answer two critical questions:
- What is in the best interest of your firm?
- What is in the best interest of the team member?
If the answers are two different things, then we have to be able to find a way to work together and allow all goals to be achieved. To decide if retaining this team member is truly in the best interest of your firm, you have to be able to evaluate whether or not the actions you will need to undertake in order to retain them are actions that are in the best interest of your firm. If not, what are the actions you can take that would be in the best interest of both the team member and your firm? The journey is about finding the space that honors both vital needs.
Planning ahead now pays dividends later
Aside from having a plan in place to keep key positions filled, what are the benefits of succession planning with your team? It will allow you to be more intentional in promotion and training investments. Too often, our operational decisions are guided by necessity. We make decisions based on what we need, not what we want. We offer promotions to fill a seat. We offer training to fill a gap. Planning your firm’s organizational structure out in advance, including future growth, will allow you to make proactive, strategic decisions on where to focus your recruiting and training budgets.
As with anything, it can be hard to take the time to focus on long-term planning when the short-term day-to-day tasks seem to consume our attention. But, planning for your firm’s future leadership needs instead of just being content in your current setup will give you the edge by keeping your team foundation strong through the years.