Succession planning is critical to ensuring the talent gaps are short when a key player leaves or gets promoted.
One of the great things about leading a high performing team is that people grow and they grow very quickly. The problem with that is they’re always looking for new opportunities. You’re always at risk of losing someone either to a promotion within the organization or they move on to bigger and better things outside of your company. As a leader, you need to be prepared for these changes because over-reliance on an individual player can be extremely dangerous.
For example, my dad was in the Navy and he was on a submarine, and they had a badge that was called the Dolphins. And the way it worked was that every individual in the crew had to know and be able to perform the jobs of every single other crew member. Because think about it—on a submarine if someone got injured or went down, you couldn’t have the rest of the crew not know how to perform that role because it would put the entire organization at risk.
There are huge benefits to cross-training. First, it builds redundancy. If someone leaves your organization, you have someone else who can step in and fulfill those responsibilities because the business needs to continue operating. Second, cross-training gives people a development opportunity so they can grow. And third, the people conducting that cross-training are learning how to train and develop others. So you’re doing two things at the same time. That individual is learning a new skill and the person teaching it is learning the skill of developing others.
Succession planning is critical to ensuring the talent gaps are short when a key player leaves or gets promoted. As a leader, you need to start looking ahead beyond what your current team has from a people standpoint. You need to build a robust talent pipeline of people who can join your team and fill roles when gaps arise. Succession planning is not an HR responsibility. It’s yours. HR does the recruiting. HR helps you find the candidates. But as the leader, you need to understand and build that talent pipeline. You can ask HR to come in and assist you in that work. You should be regularly assessing the talent on your team as well as looking across the broader organization. Ideally, you have a short list of people elsewhere in the organization you would like to recruit should you have an opening.
I know some leaders who actually have that talent pipeline written out and it also includes people outside the company who they know from their own personal and professional network. By staying in touch with those people in other parts of the organization or in other companies, you can quickly reach out to those people and fill a role much more rapidly than the leader who doesn’t have a talent pipeline built for an unexpected opening.
By having a robust talent pipeline and making sure you’re doing cross-training and having that bench strength built in advance of a role opening up, you’re going to fill your openings faster, you’re going to get better talent that is better qualified for that role, and you’re not going to have to just settle and say, “Well, I need a body. I need anybody to just be able to do this work.”
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