The Next Generation: Succession Planning

Planning for the departure of key staff is never an easy task, but it is an essential part any organization’s long term strategy, whether it’s a family-run hotel or a major international chain.

The process, called succession planning, is especially important right now as so many managers of the baby boom generation are approaching retirement age. It will also provide a backup in the event of a sudden departure, accident, illness or even untimely death.

Essentially, succession planning involves developing the people needed to carry out a company’s vision in the long term. Planning well ahead enables you to select and train several suitable replacements and work with them over time so that the ultimate candidate will be ready when the time comes.

As Arlene Hall, Regional Director, Human Resources, at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, observes, “it’s important to start with an overall strategic plan for the organization because you’re not just filling existing roles; you’re also looking at which roles will be needed in the future.”

“At Fairmont, for example, succession planning is especially important as we’re in a growth mode. As we look at increasing the number of hotels we have around the world, we need to have people in the organization who understand our values and systems and can step into those new jobs.”

A good succession plan starts with basic data gathering, including an evaluation of your existing employees’ abilities, interests, and career stages.

Once you’ve determined who has the desire, skill and vision necessary for the jobs in question, be sure to discuss your ideas with the top prospects. You don’t want to plan around individuals who, for whatever reason, are not interested in the promotion you have in mind.

Next, assuming the candidates are on board, provide them with the training they’ll need to fill key positions.  Train replacements well before you need them and use cross training techniques to ensure more than one person is capable of performing essential tasks.

Establish a timeline for specific events. Determine when training will begin, when professional development goals should be met, and when responsibilities should ultimately transfer. Whenever possible, the handover should be gradual to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

A good succession plan is both detailed and flexible. As Hall points out, you’ll need to continually revisit and revise it: “It’s a fluid situation; an opening may come up before the one you had in mind, or an employee’s circumstances and interests may change.”

Remember too, that potential retirees may have other ideas.  “Not everyone who is 60 or 65 wants to leave, but may want shorter hours or more flexibility, so we need to come up with strategies to retain their knowledge and cultural understanding,” says Hall.

And start early. A succession plan may be one of the most important long term strategies you ever make. As a roadmap for the future, it means you won’t be left in the lurch, financially or operationally, if the unexpected happens.