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Succession Planning: Evaluating employees

Succession Planning: Evaluating employees

The following is the third in a series of articles about the importance and benefits of succession planning within your business or organization.
Throughout this series, we will explore the various steps of this critical planning process that will help protect the longevity of your
business and provide professional growth for your future leaders.

I will never forget the day I was interviewing candidates to a fill a high-level position on my technology team. When I asked one of the candidates where he wanted to be in five years, he said, “I want your job.” It was this response that made me realize how important it was to prepare my staff for when I chose to move on to my next career opportunity. In this article we will begin to explore the process of assessing your most valuable resource—human capital—in an effort to help you identify potential successors.

Succession planning is the process of developing plans, people and actions to ensure the continued operation of a business in the event of an expected, or unexpected, change of leadership. While there are many steps in the succession planning process, one of the most challenging and time-consuming—yet rewarding—steps is the employee evaluation, selection and development process.

The selection and development of your successor is something that is ideally done over a period of time. This process begins with a skills assessment of all existing employees. The assessment will help you identify the current skills, knowledge and experience of each employee and determine future development needs to ensure their continued professional growth and success and their tenure at your business.

The employee skills assessment process is often perceived to be time consuming and difficult.
This perception is primarily founded in apprehension about making subjective judgments about other people, but this assessment process does not have to be entirely subjective. Investing some time up front to develop clear definitions of your desired skill levels will help you create an objective framework around the assessment process and provide you with the necessary documentation to communicate your expectations to all of your employees.

Begin by developing a comprehensive list of skills that you know, or believe, are important for employees to posses in order to be successful in your business. If your business is large, then you may want to make specific skill lists for a particular division or type of job. However, if your business is small, keep it simple, and just make one list that you can use for every employee. You might want to enlist the help of a trusted adviser to develop this list with an outsider’s perspective.

Next, develop an “expertise scale” that you can use to rate an employee on each skill that you have identified. This will help develop a more objective structure around the assessments and provide a greater level of consistency among assessments and from employee to employee.

You also will need to develop a clear definition for each step of the expertise scale. This definition will make it easier for you to consistently evaluate each employee and will help you communicate expectations. For example, you might use an expertise scale made of numbers between zero (0) and five (5), where zero (0) means that the employee has no experience for that particular skill and five (5) means that they possess “expert” level knowledge based on their education, training or professional experience. Each step up the scale reflects an increased amount of relative expertise, graduated as you see appropriate for your business or industry.

Now turn your attention to your employees, and invest the time to carefully evaluate each and every one of them. Take into consideration their education, training, certifications and practical experience. Give them a rating that you can support with the definitions you created earlier for your expertise scale. At this point you may have one or more employees who stand out above the others and whom you would consider as your potential successor(s).

Next, reevaluate each employee, this time taking into consideration the ratings that you gave them (“current state”). Now consider at what rating level they should be (“future state”) in order to improve at their assigned duties and responsibilities. In the case of your potential successor(s), ask yourself what expertise level you believe they need for each of the listed skills in order for you to feel comfortable turning over operational control to them.

Now that you know where each employee stands, or their “current state,” and you know where you would like each employee to be, or their “future state,” you can begin to develop specific professional development plans for each employee. In the case of your potential successor(s), it is time for you to tuck them under your proverbial wing and let them begin to experience what it means to be “the boss.” Based on the assessment, you already know in what areas your successor needs improvement, so you can focus your mentoring efforts in these areas.

Regardless of the education, training, certifications or life experiences that your potential successor(s) may have, there is no substitute for the experience and knowledge that they will gain from working closely with you to learn the industry, learn the operation and learn from your past experiences (or, perhaps, mistakes). Your own knowledge and insight could fill a textbook, so choose wisely, and share freely.

By the way, the young man who wanted my job … he got it. We spent four years working together to build a team and an operation that he eventually able took over. The investment that I made in him not only made him the obvious choice for the job but also allowed the operation to move forward through a leadership change without skipping a beat.

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