When Leaders See the Future

Published: March 8, 2016

Unfortunately for most teams, succession decisions are reactive. A valuable talent got hit by the proverbial bus and the scramble ensued. A top performer was lured away by a shiny opportunity taking her client list with her. Leadership neglected to read the tea leaves of dissatisfaction and had to devote costly energy and attention to recruitment rather than retention. What might happen if the future was predictable? How might an organization approach succession planning?

A proactive assessment of talent and bench strength usually reveals obvious gaps. Some of these can be filled by posting a job opening while others might get addressed with internal colleagues who have been groomed for growth. Start at the top of the organizational chart, ask these questions, and work your way downward until you’ve planned for every eventuality:

  • What would be the loss impact if this person left?
  • Does the profile of this position create a business continuity issue?
  • Where does the scope of the impact hurt most – technical expertise, replacement challenge, expense/productivity, culture/morale, public relations, or competitor advantage?
  • Do we have anyone internally who is ready to step in?
  • How ready is this candidate – immediate, 1-2 years, or 3-5 years?
  • Are there any intangibles that need to be tackled?

A robust succession approach uses this data as a triage action plan. Every possibility has a corresponding narrative that outlines the specific steps necessary to keep the organization thriving. Every employee knows their future and the path they will take to get there. Performance evaluation and coaching is shaped by collaborative discussion about targeted development. No one gets caught by surprise.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.