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Everyday Succession Planning

A variety of problems arise when one of your key employees suddenly can’t work for an extended period. One way to reduce these problems is through succession planning. Once limited to filling positions vacated by senior managers, succession planners now handle situations arising from the unavailability or loss of any key employee.

By Guy Robertson

Guy Robertson is a senior emergency planner, auditor and trainer at TMC and an instructor at the Justice Institute of BC and Langara College. He has written five books and hundreds of articles on disaster planning, and offered workshops and lectures at conferences across North America and in the UK.

Not Just Senior Managers

“Concerns about effective succession at all levels deepened during and after Covid,” says Connie Gordon, a Human Resources consultant and trainer in Surrey, B.C. “We have to admit that while senior managers are important, there are specialists in offices and on plant floors who are even more essential to day-to-day operations.” For example:

You may take these people for granted, until they need time off. Then what?

No Succession Planning?

“Most managers think about the inconvenience a long-term absence can cause, both to other employees and to customers,” says Gordon. “But there are often other results, like backlogs, loss of productivity and financial issues.” In cases where an employee has been seriously injured or killed, morale problems can spread throughout an organization, even among coworkers who barely know the victim.

“You can bring in external resources,” says Hilary Hannigan, a Vancouver-based IT specialist. “The problem is, outsiders won’t know the specific aspects of your IT systems, the specialized applications for which there might not be up-to-date documentation. An outsider will need time to find out how your systems work. And a company with standing orders for product might not have time to spare.” Succession planning has become an everyday requirement for business operations.

First, Measure Impact

Before succession training programs are organized, some senior managers demand analyses of the impact of employee loss.

“An impact analysis will usually show how much time it takes to lose money after a certain employee or group of employees are unavailable,” says Gordon. “Some analyses can be real eye-openers, and maybe a bit embarrassing.” She mentions an analysis that showed how a manufacturing company’s CEO could take a two-month holiday, and operations would continue smoothly. But when the production manager missed half a shift to visit a dentist, the plant experienced supply and scheduling problems that resulted in surprisingly large financial losses.

“Many organizations, however, don’t require advanced expertise to put together an impact analysis,” says Gordon. “In the beginning, what they need is common sense. Obviously, the loss of skilled employees is going to cause trouble, and they should be backed up.”

Step By Step

The first step in succession planning is to identify the essential skill sets in your operations. Large industrial plants rely on highly trained and experienced personnel including production managers, packaging technicians, mechanics, and supply coordinators, who need backup personnel if they are away from their workplaces for more than a few days.

The next step is to list the employees who have the essential skill sets that you’ve identified. Consider specific persons in key positions, and ask yourself what effects their absence would have on your operations. Determine how long a skilled worker would have to be absent before their skills would be sorely missed on your workplace.

Finally, try to identify skilled workers’ potential replacements. Your production systems analyst may have no equal at present, but she has an assistant who has demonstrated his talents on several smaller projects. Could your analyst train him to do more of her job, and to fill in for her if she’s off for a week with flu? Moreover, she might be considering retirement in a few years. It would be prudent to make sure that her skills are passed on to her eventual successor.

Part of DR Plan

Succession planning is now included in many disaster plans. If severe weather in your region leads to flooding and road closures, a number of plants will remain in operation owing to the comprehensive backup of all key employees. The IT manager might be trapped on the wrong side of a closed-off bridge, but his assistant can travel to the plant from a different direction, and the plant’s IT systems will continue to function.

“You can keep an electronic list of your key employees and their backups on a cell phone,” says Hannigan. In an emergency, you could receive a message from an employee who can’t reach your workplace. Then you could send a message to a backup employee, asking him or her to fill in. If telephone systems are down, wireless networks might be the only practical way to communicate with coworkers, including those who can provide valuable backup service.

You’re Covered

Severe weather and other threats might force the postponement of various activities, but it needn’t bring your operations to a halt. Directly or indirectly, succession planning supports essential work of all kinds.

If you’d like to discuss how these succession planning can be incorporated into your business continuity or DR plan, or to comment on this article, contact me at

This article was published in the February 2024 edition of The TMC Advisor
- ISSN 2369-663X Volume:11 Issue:2

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