Succession: Start planning for tomorrow … today

Succession planning is consistently ranked among the top issues facing CPA firms today … but you’d never know it.

Too many organizations’ succession plans are reactionary at best … and non-existent at worst. At a conference I attended recently, an attendee said flat-out that top execs should never let anyone know that they’re planning to leave the firm. His rationale: You’ll just rock the boat and upset your team, who will then proceed to push you out the door as soon as possible. The prevailing idea at many firms seems to be this: “We’ll start planning to replace essential talent when we need to, and not a minute sooner.”

Here’s the problem: That replacement talent often doesn’t exist. You can’t be sure that the right people will be available at the right time. There’s a world full of competitors who need the same talent you’re looking for.

The truth? You should be planning to replace essential talent all the time.

“Succession planning isn’t a one-time, reactive thing. It’s a continuous commitment,” Leadership Solutions International President Holly Duckworth told the crowd at the 2016 ASAE Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. “A succession plan is a cog in a wheel that moves every aspect of your organization forward.”

It goes back to that well-worn but brilliant Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.” Show me a successful succession plan and I’ll show you one that was probably launched years ago. According to Duckworth, the best succession plans are intentional, strategic, and proactive.

There’s another part to that Chinese proverb, though: The second-best time to plant a tree is now.

In other words, your plan for tomorrow should start right now. Don’t wait for a key employee to announce she’s leaving to look for a successor. Start now, with every position.

  • Which roles need a succession plan?
  • What skills do your employees currently have?
  • What skills are needed to fill that position?
  • Which high-potential employees possess those skills?
  • Who’s ready to take the next step? Identify those folks and get them into the leadership pipeline.

Think about it: A good succession plan isn’t just about replacing outgoing leadership. It’s about career development. Don’t just replace your outgoing talent. Develop your incoming talent.

Do that and your succession plan will take care of itself.

The National Council of Non-Profits offers some amazing succession planning resources on its website, including planning tips, an emergency succession planning toolkit, and scores of other resources. You’ll find those resources here.

Start thinking about this stuff now, folks. If your succession plan starts the minute a key team member leaves, you’re woefully behind.


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