Planning for Tomorrow – The Importance of Succession Planning

When we reflect on 2011, no doubt we will remember that it was the year that the world lost one of its great visionaries and leaders, Steve Jobs. So with that in mind, it made me think about the retail organizations we support… “What would an organization do if a key player resigned or fell ill tomorrow?”

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

Consider this: would your organization operate without a strategy or a long-term financial plan? Seems silly yet why do so many retailers fail to have a talent strategy that includes a succession plan?

If your organization is struggling with the same question, you are not alone. A recent study by the World Retail Congress reported that only 17% of retailers have a succession plan in place.

A succession plan is a process for identifying and developing people in your organization with the potential to fill key leadership positions. Proactive succession planning leaves your organization well prepared for the loss of a key player, filling a new role, and promotions. Effective succession is not just ‘looking up the ladder’ but includes lateral moves, special project assignments, as well as external training and development opportunities.

So in an industry plagued by high turnover, why does it seem to get put on the back burner? Well, simply put, day-to-day business is the highest priority and many think the need likely won’t arise tomorrow, so other high priority issues get the attention.

However, the benefits of a succession plan are not only realized when a position is filled but rather can be felt through the organization on an ongoing basis including:

  • Creating a motivated and capable group of employees that are ready to move forward when the need arises;
  • Reducing turnover of top talent by improving commitment and retention; and
  • Breaking down silos and strengthening cross-department relationships.

“What gets measured gets done”

There are metrics to put in place to evaluate your organization’s success in succession planning including:

  • Employee engagement,
  • The number of key vacancies in the organization, and
  • Annual turnover (and the associated costs).

Succession planning is vital whether in a family business or leadership of a company. Moreover, it should be viewed as a process rather than an event that requires planning and constant re-evaluation.

At J.C. Williams Group, we believe that investing in leadership development including creating succession plans for key leadership roles will leave retailers much better positioned with the right talent, in the right place, at the right time to support their future success.


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