If you have an executive or senior management role, chances are you haven’t given much thought to what would happen if you suddenly had to step down from your position. Would relationships with clients continue on a good note? Would projects continue to run without a hitch? If you can’t answer an unequivocal “yes” to these questions, you are not alone.
According to a recent survey, nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) of advertising and marketing executives feel uncertain that someone in their company could fill their shoes if they had to leave. The national poll, developed by The Creative Group, a division of Robert Half International (RHI), included 250 responses from advertising and senior marketing executives from the top 1,000 largest firms in the United States.
“While the majority of ad and marketing executives in our poll reported having a succession plan in place, what is troublesome is that many still do not,” says Carrie Muehlemann, branch manager of The Creative Group in St. Louis. “By taking proactive steps, a manager's departure becomes a workable issue rather than an imminent crisis. You need a plan so that someone can step into a role without massive panic.”
Smart Business spoke with Muehlemann about the importance of creating a succession plan, and how to develop one.
What are the benefits of creating a succession program for not only advertising and marketing firms, but all companies?
Succession planning lays the groundwork for a smooth transition when a manager moves on, or in the event he or she leaves unexpectedly. It is not only good ‘disaster prevention’ in case of an employee’s sudden departure, but it is good for everyday occur-rences, such as vacation or sick leave. A succession plan helps employees feel secure that there is a plan in place for the business to run as usual, even if key personnel are missing either temporarily or permanently.
What are some common reasons companies don’t create succession programs?
Many managers are simply caught up in the present dealing with daily activities, putting out office fires and have trouble making time to plan for the future. Plus, the idea of creating such a plan can be daunting; who really wants to think about and create a plan to replace themselves? A better way to think about succession planning is to look at it not only as a plan of replacement if something happens to the manager, but as a succession plan for when employees are promoted.
What do managers stand to gain from succession planning?
For managers, having a trusted replacement to cover for them while they’re away from the office can relieve some day-to-day stress. It certainly diminishes the pressure of what to do during vacations or any leave of absence they may need to take. Managers can rest assured that things will be under control and handled, and work will not be piled up when they return. They also may feel better about accepting a new role either within or outside the organization if there is someone ready to fill their shoes.
In addition, a succession plan helps instill loyalty among employees who are groomed for the next step, as well as the managers who are grooming them.
What qualities should managers look for in potential succession candidates?
Strengths executives may look for in succession candidates are strong leadership skills, communication skills, strategic thinking, commitment to the company and the initiative to execute change. One thing to keep in mind is that a successor may not necessarily be the next in line for that position. It should be an employee who shows leadership abilities, is able to make good decisions, and is ready to take the next step on the career ladder. But that person once identified needs to be moved up to second in command in order to avoid resentment among co-workers. The successor should preferably be someone within the company (as opposed to recruiting new staff) since promoting from within breeds loyalty. Succession also flows more seamlessly from within the company since the employee already understands the corporate culture.
How can managers help candidates grow into leadership roles?
Once a successor is identified, managers need to let that person know immediately. This not only reinforces to the employee that he or she is on an upward career track, but it also offers the chance for the person to decline, if he or she so chooses. Managers may want to include protégés in strategy meetings and discussions to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, as well as a broad vision of the company and its goals. The successor should start to gain ongoing knowledge of the role for the day he or she may need to jump right in. Managers should also provide regular feedback, plus offer perks or incentives to keep these future leaders engaged and committed to their career paths and the company. A trial run, which can occur during the manager’s vacation, is a good way to assess if the successor is ready for the job.
CARRIE MUEHLEMANN is branch manager of The Creative Group in St. Louis. Reach her at Carrie.firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 621-8367. The Creative Group (www.creativegroup.com), a division of Robert Half International, is a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and Web professionals on a project basis.